"I will come to you when you sleep", Vicente had said. "Trust me, it's easier that way. You'll never know I was there."
I had refrained from asking how I was supposed to sleep through someone biting my neck. Now I discovered that I had indeed not woken up. Normally, I am a rather light sleeper, but as he had predicted, Vicente had come and gone without me noticing. The two tiny wounds on the left side of my neck, however, showed plainly that he had been there. Gingerly, I ran my fingertips over them. They were clean, already crusted over with a bit of dried blood. Not a single stain showed on my pillow.
I got up and stretched. I was not particularly hungry, so I just grabbed an apple and a mug of tea from the kitchen and went out into the hall. No one was around, so I settled down comfortably in one of the armchairs, reached for a book that was lying on the table, and started to read.
"Good morning, little Sister", a familiar voice boomed. "Good to see you're back in one piece."
"Hello, Gogron." I closed my book and looked up with a smile. "Yes, everything went quite smoothly. I was in and out again in less than an hour, with no one the wiser."
"Bah, how boring", he snorted and winked at me. I laughed softly as he dropped into the chair next to mine. "Now, my next contract should be a lot more interesting." Suddenly his eyes narrowed and he looked at me more closely. "What's that on your neck? Bite marks?"
"Yes", I said simply.
"You didn't get them on your last job, did you?" It was not really a question. I shook my head. He eyed me thoughtfully. "Are you going to do anything about it?"
He studied me for a moment longer, clearly trying to decide whether or not to ask his next question. "Vicente?" he said finally.
I inclined my head. "He made an offer. I accepted."
"I see", he said slowly. Then he grinned. "Guess that means I'll have to save a few more bandits in the future if there's another mouth to feed." His grin faded as something occured to him. "Do the others know?"
"Not yet. But they will know soon." I looked at him. "Do you expect problems?"
He shrugged. "Not really. Vicente's one of the family, after all. So are you, and I don't see why that should change."
I nodded. "Neither do I. Vicente did not break the Tenets, since I consented. And a vampire's skills will help rather than hinder me in my job." I picked up my mug of tea and drained it, feeling that everything necessary had been said about the matter. "Well, Brother... you mentioned your next contract. Would you care to tell me about it?"
I started awake, stifling a scream. At least I hoped I had stifled it, for my throat felt raw. I was nauseous, my brow beaded with sweat, and my breath came in heavy gasps. As I tried to shake off the remnants of the nightmare, I became aware of Vicente's voice near me, calm and soothing.
"Easy... you'll feel better in a moment."
He held me, gently stroking my hair, waiting patiently as another wave of nausea surged through me and left me helpless and shivering. My vision was distorted, everything seemed to shift and reel around me, and I clung to him as to an anchor, the only stable point amidst the confusion.
I do not know exactly how long it lasted, but finally I gradually felt my trembling subside. I drew another shuddering breath and slowly sat up. Vicente let go of me and studied me. "Better?"
I nodded slowly. "I... dreamed."
"That's not unusual, unfortunately. But feeding helps with that, too."
I wiped my brow with the back of my hand. "What time is it?"
"Shortly before midnight." He rose from the bedside where he had been sitting and extended his hand towards me. "Do you feel steady enough to go for a walk? No need to disturb the others, after all." I looked around and saw that I apparently had not screamed, for my Brothers and Sisters were still sleeping peacefully around me.
To be honest, I could not immediately tell how I was feeling. Strange, certainly, and definitely changed. I was still weak, but at the same time I felt something burn within me, something powerful and alien. Cautiously I ran my tongue over the tips of my canines. They were sharp as needles.
Vicente waited patiently while I pulled myself together. At last, I drew a deep breath, took his proffered hand and rose a bit shakily, belatedly noticing that I was only wearing a thin shift. Embarrassed, I reached for my shirt and breeches and quickly dressed while Vicente tactfully turned his back to me.
"Ready?" he asked at last. I nodded, and we quietly left the living quarters.
Vicente led me through the hallway and out the front door of the Sanctuary. As we stepped out into the corridor, I habitually started to call up my night vision spell, then I noticed that I could see perfectly well without it. I turned to Vicente, who was smiling at me. "Sharper senses, like I told you", he said. "Come, there is more to be discovered tonight."
Now that I was feeling a bit better I noticed that he seemed to be in a most unusual mood. He appeared excited, even eager, as I had never seen him before. I followed him along the corridor and into the cellar, where I suddenly stopped and sniffed the air.
"What is that smell?"
He smiled again, and this time the smile had something decicedly predatory about it. "Breakfast."
He led me to a dark corner, where behind a stack of empty crates we found the source of the smell. A young man was cowering there, gagged and chained to the wall, his eyes wide with fear. His fear, I suddenly realised, was what I was smelling. He had grey eyes and dark hair that was currently plastered to his forehead with sweat. He clearly could not see us in the dark, but he knew someone was coming and blindly turned his head, trying to figure out what was going on. His clothes were slightly stained, but of good quality, and but for his obvious panic he might even have been attractive.
The smell of his fear had a strange effect on me. I suddenly became aware that I was ravenously hungry, and I felt something take hold of me. Without thinking, I started out towards him, when Vicente caught my arm and held me back. "Wait", he said, and a low growl escaped me before I could get a grip on myself.
The young man made a strangled noise through his gag and pressed himself flat against the wall, eyes darting this way and that. Vicente gently pressed my arm, then stepped forward and knelt beside the prisoner. "Watch", he instructed me, then grabbed the young man's head and turned it aside, exposing the jugular. Slowly he lowered his mouth, and his fangs pierced the skin.
The smell hit me immediately, and I had to struggle to keep myself under control. It was unlike anything I had ever smelled before, hot and pungent and full of life. I watched Vicente as he held the struggling prisoner in an iron grip and took two slow, deep draughts. Then he raised his head and looked at me. "Come", he said. "Time to feed."
I stepped closer and knelt beside him. While he held our prey immobile, I bent over him and let my instinct guide me to the right spot. Without thinking, I sunk my fangs into the young man's neck and drank deeply.
The taste was indescribable. His blood flowed over my tongue and down my throat, and it felt like life itself. I drank, and it was quite a while before I noticed that my prey's struggling grew weaker and eventually subsided.
Finally, Vicente took my shoulder and gently pulled me back. I let go of the body which sagged limply against the wall, then sat back on my heels and closed my eyes, breathing deeply. He did not speak, but allowed me time to collect myself. Finally I opened my eyes and looked at him.
He was studying me with a strange expression in his eyes, one I could not fathom. "Feeling better?" he asked softly.
I nodded and rose. "We should get rid of this", I said, indicating the corpse.
"No problem", he assured me, rising as well. "There's a fresh grave in the churchyard, and its inhabitant won't mind the company."
He took a plain blanket from the remnants of an old crate, wrapped the corpse into it and slung it over his shoulder. "Let's go."
The streets of Cheydinhal were deserted at this hour. We passed nobody on your way to the graveyard, not even a patrol of the Watch. A few minutes later, we arrived at the low stone wall that surrounded the graveyard. The old metal gate creaked slightly as I opened it, but no one was around to hear it.
Finding the fresh grave was not difficult. The gravedigger had most considerately left his tools nearby, and digging into the soft soil was no problem. We disposed of the body, then closed the grave again. Vicente looked it over and nodded approvingly.
"This should do. Come, I want to show you something."
We left the graveyard, and he went off towards the city gate. I followed him, wondering what he might have in mind.
At the gate, he approached the sleepy guard who was on duty. Vicente looked at him with a strange, intense expression in his eyes and murmured something I did not understand. The guard's face immediately went blank. He nodded mechanically, then opened the small thoroughfare in the gate that was intended for those who travelled on foot. Vicente nodded at him and we stepped through the gate, which closed behind us.
"How did you do that?" I asked.
He smiled. "A little trick of the mind... you'll learn it eventually. You'll find that most humans are very easy to control if you know how. But that wasn't what I wanted to show you."
He led me in an easterly direction, following the city wall until at last we came to a little pond beside which sat a wayshrine of Akatosh. Surely it was not the shrine where he was leading me?
It turned out that it was not. We walked to the ege of the pool, which lay still and silent under the cloudless sky. Not a single ripple disturbed the mirrorlike surface in which stars reflected like tiny diamonds.
Vicente led me to the water's edge and gently pulled me down. "Look", he said quietly. Obediently I bent over the water, and for the first time since the change I looked at my own face.
I was surprised to see that my appearance had not changed much. I have never been vain, but my guess was that I would still be considered pretty by those who did not know what I was. My eyes, which had been the dark red that is typical for my people, had lightened somewhat. They were still red, but the hue was now closer to the flamelike colour I saw in Vicente's. My features had sharpened a bit, and from what I could see in the dark reflection on the water my skin was slightly paler than it used to be, but among those who had not known me before the change I would easily pass for a normal Dunmer.
I raised my head to find Vicente watching me intently. "Deceptive", I said and smiled a little. "They will never notice."
He chuckled softly. "Oh, they will. But by then it will be too late." He became serious again. "There are things you need to know", he said. "Some tricks, techniques, things that will give you an edge and help you survive. I'll teach you, of course." He paused for a moment. "I made you", he finally said. "In a way, I'm responsible for you now, and believe me, I don't take that responsibility lightly." I understood what he really was saying, even though he did not put it in words. He had never had a teacher. He had had to survive on his own, and his existence had depended on him finding out what he needed to know before the inevitable hunters found him. I did not know what to say in reply, but fortunately he already continued, apparently slightly embarrassed by his unusual display of emotion. "I spoke with Ocheeva", he said. "She agreed to let us have a few nights before offering you your next contract. We will use that time well."
I nodded slowly. "Now that I have fed, I do not feel much changed", I admitted. "I assume that this is dangerous, since I might fall back into a more... mortal behaviour?"
Vicente smiled, obviously pleased. "You precisely got the first point I was going to make." He straightened and offered me his hand. "Come, let's walk a bit. The night is still young, and there is much to learn..."