Elsie woke up in a darkened room. The scent of unsmoked tobacco cluttered the air. She sat up.
Good. I’m not tied down.
She brought her knees up.
Good. I’m not shackled.
She startled up to her feet and glanced around the darkness. “Who’s there?”
“I am the master of Havaton.”
“Oh, really? I’ve been here a long time and this is the first time I’ve heard of you.”
“Reasons. What? That’s your answer? Who are you?”
“You may call me Master and I’ll be happy with that.”
“No. As far as I know, you haven’t earned that title. Certainly not from me.”
“You arrogant little nothing!” Sharp claws sliced the side of her face.
Elsie cried out.
“Mmm. Hunter blood.”
Elsie backed away from the woman’s voice.
“If you touch me again, I’ll stake you.”
“Have you ever staked a vampire in the dark such as this?”
“There’s always a first time.”
“Mmm. Arrogant. Cocky. So confident that you can beat me.”
“I will certainly try.”
The woman laughed. “So. Try. Find me, Elsie Vansing, before I bite. your.” A claw traced a line across Elsie’s throat. “neck.”
Elsie grabbed her hand. “I warned you.” She grabbed the master’s other hand and grappled her down to the floor.
The master tried to escape, tried desperately to break free.
Elsie pulled a stake out of Hildreth’s stake belt and made short work of her.
Lights flashed on.
Elsie sat in the middle of a small arena. Gray and black tiles covered the arena’s floor. The metal stands were empty except for one person.
A person – maybe a man, maybe a woman – in a heavy black hooded cloak and a black and gold falcon’s mask. The person applauded. Very slow and somehow sarcastic applause.
Elsie stood. “Who are you?”
She flinched as a woman’s voice replied in her head, come closer and find out.
Elsie stayed put and considered her options.
She reluctantly obeyed the summons. As she approached the stands, the metal gate separating the audience from the arena swung open.
Elsie stopped and looked up at the cloaked figure.
It regarded her with cold detachment and no further thoughts.
Elsie glanced around the arena for the nearest exit. Just in case she needed it.
There didn’t seem to be one, which didn’t make sense to her.
I got in here somehow. Unless this is a dream? It doesn’t quite feel like a dream. Maybe the exit will manifest itself. Somehow. When I least expect it.
She walked through the gate and approached the cloaked figure.
The scent of unsmoked cigarettes grew stronger.
She stopped beside the figure. “Who are you?”
“I am the Master of Havaton.”Her voice was as sharp as a falcon’s beak.
“Yeah. That’s what dead vamp down there said. I suppose you’re lying too.”
“With this fabulous get-up?” The figure sat down and opened a pack of cigarettes. “Not likely.” She pulled out a cigarette and took a bite out of it.
Elsie stared at her as she chewed and chewed the piece and swallowed it. “Uhh.”
Another bite. Chewed. Swallowed.
Just like a pretzel stick.
“Uhhh, you’re not supposed to eat those.”
“I know that.” She pulled out another one and tapped it on the side of the box. “But ever since my change, I’ve been unable to tolerate the scent of cigarette smoke. That and I’m always so hungry. Eating cigarettes helps take the edge off my hunger.”
“I thought vampires can’t eat.”
She shrugged. “I don’t know about other vampires, but real food doesn’t appeal to me. Cigarettes, however, mm.”
“What do you want?”
“I want you.”
“I want you to kill Mark Caten.”