Predator and Prey
Published on / 3 Chapter(s) / 5 Review(s)
Prince RimÃ© is travelling through a forest with six companions, but is taken prisoner by a vampire with a mysterious vendetta against royalty.
Aries kicked a pile of bones out of his way as he stalked across his cave. Two days had passed since he’d fed, and eleven since he’d last entertained a guest in his lair. It’d been even longer since he’d had a truly satisfying victim. The nobles he’d encountered recently were pathetic, and their spirits shattered as easily as glass.
Even their blood tastes weak, the vampire cursed, crushing a femur beneath his boot. The only way to cure his thirst was to find a strong victim… preferably royalty. He wanted victims who were determined to survive, prey that would not shatter under his torture as quickly as the others had. His previous captives bored him with their tearful pleas to save their worthless lives. As entertaining as it had been to break their feeble minds, he was tired of destroying his prey in under a week.
Aries turned his crimson gaze to the bloodstains on the wall. His last guest had been a duke’s daughter. She’d been a pretty girl with honey blonde curls and hazel eyes, but she’d cried constantly. He’d disposed of her when she’d ceased to amuse him. He’d returned her corpse to her father’s mansion, placing the body in the man’s room. He would have stayed to watch the duke’s reaction, but the approach of dawn forced him to seek shelter.
“Damn sun,” the vampire hissed. Perhaps, if he was lucky, a noble or some unfortunate traveler had stumbled into one of his traps while daylight imprisoned him.
He would check the snares and pits first. People usually broke a limb when they fell into the pits, and their futile attempts to escape entertained him. If his snares hadn’t captured a victim, he’d search the rest of his traps. They were scattered all over the forest and he was confident that he would find new prey tonight. He’d dug six pits last night and set out new traps the night before to increase his chances of catching a new “guest”.
Little did Aries know that the perfect prey was already in his forest.
* * *
Rimé crossed his arms behind his head and lay back in the grass with a soft sigh, looking up at the heavens and wishing he’d come to this peaceful forest on better terms. He would have enjoyed a chance to relax with his cousins and guards away from the duties of royalty, but there was no time.
His realm and the kingdom of Lothar each held an important hostage that the other required. Lotharian spies had imprisoned his father, King Lior, as he was returning to the castle. Their realm had retaliated by invading the summer home of King Alvar’s heir, Prince Jarek, and captured him. Rimé feared war would break out between the kingdoms but they had reached a compromise. The hostages would be returned, and the king of each realm would sign a peace treaty to ensure the safety of their subjects and the royal families.
Rimé was the leader of the group who’d been chosen to negotiate the agreement. He’d settled on traveling to Lothar with his cousins and guards as an escort. If he’d had his way, he would have left with only his family, but his mother had refused. She insisted he take soldiers with him but had reluctantly agreed that he could be accompanied by two elves of his choosing, so long as he brought the head of her guard with him.
He’d chosen Elkan and Lieven. The latter, Lieven, had protected him since he was a child; and Elkan was one of his closest friends. They knew it would be safer if their numbers were greater, but Rimé knew additional guards and soldiers would slow him down. He needed to reach Lothar as soon as possible to rescue his father from imprisonment, but his relentless pace had wearied his cousins and he’d reluctantly agreed that they would rest.
Their band had set up camp for the night and he waited with Callius and Lieven for his cousins to return. The sons of his father’s sister, Aiden and Ahmir, had gone to the river with Elkan to refill their canteens. Ahmir had suggested they catch fish to supplement their supplies and Elkan had agreed. I hope they succeed, Rimé thought, shifting to a more comfortable position. Fish would be a welcome relief from travel rations.
His youngest cousin, Seth, had feared being left out and ventured into the trees to gather firewood and search for small game. He worried that his older, more experienced relatives would see him as a burden since he’d never left the kingdom, but there was no need. It pleased Rimé to have Seth with him. His cousin was a cheerful, caring person with a good soul and helpful intentions. He comforted Rimé when the stress of his father’s capture became too much and he was always eager to aid in any way possible.
Seth was wonderful, but easily distracted. Oftentimes when Rimé sent the elf into the forest to search for food or wood, Seth would return with news of some marvelous discovery instead of the items he’d been requested to find. In the beginning, Rimé had attempted to send Lieven or Elkan with Seth, but Callius had insisted he needed two guards with him at all times.
Rimé sighed softly and turned his head to look at the elf seated beneath a nearby tree. Callius was wearing chainmail armor, bow and arrows propped against his side while his long fingers polished the sword across his knees. Callius had served the royal family for centuries. He’d been Silvrena’s friend and protector since she was old enough to speak. She’d knighted him for his loyalty, and he continued to remain in her service. Callius was fiercely protective of Rimé’s family and had been reluctant to allow his prince out of his sight ever since Lior’s capture.
“Rimé!” he turned his gaze from Callius as he heard his name being called and sat upright, holding back laughter at the sight of Seth approaching. Instead of the wood or game he was supposed to return with, he’d brought an apple.
“I take it you didn’t find the firewood,” Rimé said as he rose to his feet.
Seth’s face fell. “I was gathering tinder and fallen branches, but I found an apple tree and figured we could use some fresh fruit.” He tossed the apple to the prince, who caught it easily.
“That’s a good idea, Seth,” the prince agreed, taking a bite out of the fruit.
“Would you like to come with me? I could use a second pair of hands,” Seth offered. Rimé nodded and bit into the apple again, hooking his bow and arrows over his shoulder while he chewed.
“There’s no need to bring your bow, Rimé. I already have mine,” Seth protested, picking up Rimé’s pack and handing it to him.
“It’s merely a precaution,” the prince replied. Somehow he managed to keep his tone even and patient, even though their stubborn insistence was beginning to grate on his nerves. Did his family and guards intend to keep him a prisoner in this clearing?
“His majesty is being careful, Lord Seth,” Callius replied. He sheathed his sword and came to Rimé’s side, laying his hand on the elf’s shoulder. “We cannot risk losing him.”
Rimé raised his eyes to meet Callius’s blue gaze. “Callius, I understand that my mother gave you firm orders to accompany me to Lothar, but there is no need to follow me everywhere. I am safe with Seth and in the unlikely event that we should run into danger, I am more than capable of defending myself.”
“I cannot let you leave with Lord Seth, your majesty,” Callius replied firmly. “Queen Silvrena has charged me with the protection of her heir. I swore that I would watch over you until we have returned with King Lior.”
“Rimé’s right, Callius,” Seth chimed in. “He’s one of the most powerful mages in the kingdom, and I’ve yet to see an enemy in this forest.”
The knight started to protest but Lieven interrupted him. “Let Prince Rimé go with Lord Seth, Callius. You’ve kept him in your sight since our departure. As Lord Seth said, our prince is strong. He knows how to defend himself should he encounter an enemy. We will stay here and watch over the camp until the lords’ return.”
The silver-haired elf shot him a scandalized look and Rimé took advantage of Lieven’s unexpected support to continue, “Lieven and Seth speak the truth, Callius. I shall return as swiftly as I can. I will promise you this as well. The next time we make camp, I have hunting duties and I swear that I shall not protest when you accompany me,” the prince vowed.
Callius frowned. “You cannot be certain you won’t run into harm, your majesty,” he protested. Rimé could see the indecision in his eyes. Should he allow Silvrena’s son to enter the woods escorted solely by Seth and gain his cooperation the next time they halted for the night? Or insist that Rimé remain here and have a similar conversation?
“The tree is a mere twenty minutes from our camp. Should Rimé be endangered, it will be easy for him to return,” Seth offered.
The knight still looked unwilling but finally nodded, much to Rimé’s surprise. He’d never expected Callius to agree. “Very well, your highness,” the elf sighed, bowing to his prince. “If you have not returned in an hour’s time I will assume something has happened, and I will search until I’ve found you.”
Rimé inclined his head. “Thank you for your trust. I swear I shall return as swiftly as I can,” he promised. Seth grinned at him and he couldn’t restrain a faint smile of his own as he followed his cousin into the trees. He rejoiced at the rare chance to wander the forest without his mother’s guardian shadowing his steps.
“Do you think Ahmir caught any fish?” Seth asked suddenly, pulling the prince from his thoughts.
“I hope so,” Rimé replied. His cousin easily drew him into conversation. He found Seth’s words relaxing. Speaking with his friend always brightened his spirits and he could feel the tension over Lior’s capture and Callius’s stubborn insistence to follow him everywhere fading away. There was something soothing about Seth’s gentle nature that seemed to erase his troubles.
There was no need for the elf to announce, “Here we are!” upon reaching the promised tree, but he did so anyway. Rimé smiled at his cousin’s enthusiasm and turned his approving gaze to the tree. Its branches were weighted down with crisp red fruit and he shrugged off his pack, plucking several apples and placing them inside.
“I’m glad you discovered this,” he said, glancing over his shoulder at Seth. He decided he would take two apples for each of his companions. They could dine on fresh fish and apples tonight. Seth had been correct when he mentioned their band needed fruit. There was still a week, if they maintained their current pace, until they reached Lothar.
Seth grinned at his cousin’s praise and helped him gather the apples. When fourteen had been loaded into the pack, Rimé closed it. He was about to hook it over his shoulder, but paused as a movement in the underbrush caught his eye. He relaxed as a fat brown rabbit hopped out of a bush, followed by two smaller ones moments later. Their whiskers twitched as they sniffed the night air and the animals swiftly retreated into their shelter as they caught the elves’ scent.
Rimé watched them go and turned to Seth, handing his pack to him. “Could you find firewood and take these apples back to camp?” he asked softly. He waited for his startled cousin to agree before continuing, “And please inform everyone where I’ve gone. Callius will worry and he’ll wish to follow me, but there’s no need for him to fear for my safety.”
Seth looked unsure. “I trust your abilities, Rimé, but are you sure you should do this? Hunting is supposed to be my task. And Callius speaks the truth about you. We can’t risk the loss of our prince. I said I’d seen no danger near this tree, but none our group has explored the rest of the forest. Lothar would never attack you since our land holds their heir, but our family has more enemies than the Lotharians. I don’t think it’s safe for you to go alone. Let me go in your place.”
“I’ll be fine, Seth,” Rimé sighed. He’d been alive half a century longer than his cousin and was confident that he could protect himself. It seemed that everyone, his friends, his family, his guards, had become increasingly worried for his safety ever since his father’s capture.
Seeing Seth’s dubious expression, he offered, “Since I am taking over your hunting duties tonight, you can have mine the next time we make camp, if you so desire.”
His cousin looked torn but finally nodded. “Very well, we will exchange duties tonight… but be careful! Callius will never forgive me if something happens to you, and I will never forgive myself.”
“I will,” Rimé promised, giving Seth a reassuring smile before disappearing into the forest. If he was unable to catch the rabbits tonight, there was always an abundance of small woodland creatures to hunt.
Rimé raised his bow and drew back the string so the fletchings of his arrow brushed against his cheek, aiming at the brown rabbits in front of him. He’d lost their trail twice in the past fifteen minutes and had only discovered it by sheer luck.
Meanwhile, the little animals continued to eat grass, oblivious to their soon-to-be fate. It was only a matter of time before their instincts altered them to the presence of a predator.
The noble prepared to fire but froze as his own senses screamed the same warning. The rabbits bolted into the undergrowth while he scanned the forest for signs of an enemy, dinner forgotten in the face of this unknown hazard. Never in his century and a half of life had he experienced such an overwhelming sense of danger. Not even when Lieven had saved his life as a child had he felt like this. Something was out there… something, or someone, that meant to do him great harm.
Who is it? The Lotharians wouldn’t lay a hand on me. Our lands have agreed to peace and they wouldn’t dare risk the safety of their prince by harming me, Rimé thought as he edged away. Had a different enemy followed him into the forest? With his father imprisoned, his family’s enemies could see this as an advantage to defeat the elven king’s son. Or was this just a strange scenario where the approaching enemy held no grudge against him or his family?
The first was far more realistic and he felt a stab of fear as he thought of his guards and cousins. Was Seth still wandering the forest in search of firewood? Had Aiden, Elkan, and Ahmir returned to the campsite, or were they still fishing? They would have better chances of survival since they were together, but Seth was alone…
“I knew I smelled a noble,” a dark voice said with unmistakable glee. Rimé froze as an unnaturally pale youth stepped out of the shadowy trees. Messy black hair streaked with strands of crimson fell into his blood red eyes and he was smiling eerily. Long white fangs hung from his upper jaw and the prince stepped back in alarm.
“Vampire,” he whispered, tightening his grip on the bow. He’d learned about the undead monsters from books in his father’s library and begged tales of villainous horrors from one of his tutors when he was younger, but had never seen one himself. He’d hoped he never would and ran over the ways a vampire could be killed. A stake through the heart, sunlight, holy water, cutting off their heads, draining their blood…
Rimé snapped up his bow and fired his arrow towards the enemy’s heart. It wasn’t a wooden stake but an arrow through the heart would be enough to stop this demon.
It never struck. The vampire disappeared in front of Rimé’s surprised eyes before the arrow could pierce him. Rimé reached for a second, but his enemy was instantly inches away. The creature knocked the arrow aside and seized the prince’s bow with his free hand, crushing it easily. He dropped the ruined shards and moved forward to pin Rimé’s arms against his sides.
“Trying to fight back, noble?” the monster laughed, sounding thrilled that his new prey was going to struggle. Rimé attempted to wrench away but the enemy tightened his grip. Who was this creature and what did he want with him?
“Who are you?” he demanded. The vampire didn’t reply but jumped back abruptly as blue sparks struck him. The prince electrocuted him again, watching in satisfaction as the monster clutched his heart with a grimace of pain.
“Why are you after me?” Rimé asked, retreating once more and drawing a dagger. His bow was ruined and his lightning was halting the monster’s attacks, but he couldn’t fight at full strength forever.
His enemy smirked and sped forward before the elf could react. He dodged the thrust to his heart and seized Rimé’s collar, slamming the mage against a nearby oak so hard the wind was knocked from him. He coughed weakly, wincing at the pain of his quiver digging into his spine. He raised the dagger to plunge it into the creature’s chest, but the crimson-eyed vampire was faster. He struck the dagger from Rimé’s hand, locking ice-cold fingers around his wrists and pinning them high above his head to prevent him from reaching a second blade.
The lightning mage struggled in vain to free himself but his enemy’s grip was too strong. He remembered reading of the impossible speed and strength of vampires, but never believed he’d experience it.
“Giving up already?” the fanged teen looked disappointed, mistaking Rimé’s distraction for surrender. His eyes narrowed to bloody slits. “Typical nobility,” he spat. “You’re powerless without your slaves.” His grip on Rimé’s wrists tightened painfully and he knew his skin would be bruised later.
Bruises were the least of his concern and the elf slammed his booted foot into his captor’s ribcage. Seconds later a bolt of lightning tore through the vampire’s torso and Rimé electrocuted him again in an attempt to free himself.
The vampire tightened his grip again. “You’ll pay for that, noble brat,” he snarled.
His gaze fell on the prince’s throat and Rimé tensed. He knew the monster could hear and smell the blood flowing through his veins. He needed to escape before his captor had a chance to feed.
“Who are you?” Rimé asked, repeating his earlier question. Escaping with physical strength was impossible but if he kept the vampire distracted long enough, he’d be able to gather enough power to blast a killing bolt through his heart.
He started to summon electricity for a third attack, watching the monster warily and waiting for his next move. Who was he and where had he come from? What was his grudge against him?
“Aries,” the red-eyed teen finally announced, locking his fingers around the elf’s neck before he could say a word. Rimé choked as Aries increased the pressure on his throat. His weak sparks faded as he struggled to breathe. Black spots danced in his vision and Aries looked amused at the sight of his suffering.
“Just give up while you still have the chance,” the vampire said cruelly. “Pathetic rich people like you always fade in the end.”
* * *
Aries watched the noble’s futile attempts to escape with growing pleasure. The blue-eyed brat would be punished for electrocuting him, but his struggles were a good sign. This victim had fight in him. Pity his weak elven frame wouldn’t be able to withstand his torture for long.
This one could be different though. Judging by his scent, he was no ordinary noble. He reeked of royal blood and Aries’ gaze was drawn to the silver pendant hanging from his captive’s neck. Elven runes had been carved at the bottom beneath a symbol of the kingdom. He couldn’t read the runes, but knew instantly that this one was a prince.
He hadn’t captured a prince in years. They were always fun to break and depending on the victim, their spirits shattered all too quickly or took time, and torture, to destroy. This one seemed to fit the latter. He was strong, stubborn, and refused to accept his defeat.
Even now as he was slowly being strangled, he continued to fight. Aries finally grew bored of watching the black-haired prince squirm and released his wrists. The elf’s arms fell limply to his sides but he managed to find the strength to close his hands over the vampire’s forearm in an attempt to remove the choking fingers from his throat.
Aries looked amused at this desperate act and drew back his fist, slamming it into the noble’s temple. His victim’s blue eyes rolled back and he went limp against the tree. Aries released the prince’s neck and pulled him away from the tree, drawing a knife and slicing through the leather straps of his quiver. He threw it off his captive’s back and tossed him over his shoulder, crushing the arrows beneath his feet as he turned and started towards his lair.
Commenting is disabled for guests. Please login to post a comment.