"You shouldn't have bruised her."
My body - especially my head - aches, and the way the unfamiliar voice echoes (where am I? This isn't McConnel's Bar and Grill) doesn't help the pain any. There's some kind of bag over my head and it reeks of sweat and blood.
"Couldn't be helped, my Prince," a male voice (a deep rumble that makes my temples throb) replies with a faint trace of apology. "There were interlopers, and I had to get away quickly."
I groan in pain, and the other voice (female, I think - light, but with a hard edge like sharpened glass) perks up.
"She's awake! Do remove the bag, will you?"
The bag is yanked from my head, but the darkness around me is not much brighter. I'm underground somewhere - an abandoned subway station, I think - and the only light comes from weak electric lanterns. I'm tied down to a chair, and a woman rests on her heels in front of me, looking up slightly to see me. She is not beautiful, but might be called attractive; pale, with long blonde hair and bright blue eyes. Her smile is disconcerting, and her teeth stained pink. She is perhaps seventeen, maybe nineteen on the outside.
"Where am I? What do you want?"
The woman's smile gets broader. I can feel, more than see, the male presence behind me.
"A classic question, as common in this tongue as in any other," the woman replies conversationally. She stands and stretches, cat-like, before sauntering over to where I sit and settling down on my lap. I swallow hard and try not to shiver in fear when she leans in and sniffs me.
"Am I needed further, my Prince?" the male voice rumbles. The woman - the Prince? - shakes her head and then returns her attention to me. Her eyes are wrong, somehow, though I can't place why I would say so.
"Let's cut the crap out first, shall we? Your name is Elizabeth Shore. Your friends call you Lizzie, and your former boyfriend called you quite a few other names, usually while beating you. You work in a factory that smelts iron, and were rather delighted to eventually discover that it smelts people just fine too. I don't think he beats you any more."
Her gaze was steady, and her little predatory smile was challenging me to deny her statements. A small sob tried to fight its way out of my throat, but I choked it down and nodded, just once. "How do you know all of this?" I asked quietly, trying not to let fear strangle my voice.
"I know a lot of things," she evaded with that damn smile of hers. "You interested me, Elizabeth, so I decided that one of the things I wanted to know was you - and I'm not disappointed, let me tell you. He deserved all you gave him and more." She nuzzled against my neck and this time I did shudder. I could feel
her tongue run against my jugular, and in shock I tried to slide backwards away from her, which succeeded only in bruising my back against the chair.
Her amused chuckle echoed through the abandoned station.
"What do you want?" I pleaded again. "I was just out drinking, I don't even know you."
"Of course you don't, Elizabeth," she practically purred, "Very few people know me, really. Not even the ones who think they do. Elizabeth, I find myself in a position that I did not feel I would ever be in. I want...an heir, I suppose. Someone to manage my affairs while I am gone, and return them to me when I rise again. I think you could be that person, Elizabeth."
She paused for a moment while she pressed her lips to my ear.
"Elizabeth Shore," she whispered, "how much do you fear death?"
She was very close and pressed into me, and there was no missing the fingers she trailed up my neck, tracing the path of my veins and leaving goosebumps behind them. I could smell something faint and coppery on her skin - all facts that I was noting instead of replying.
How do you even reply to that?
"Quite a bit, I'd gather," she continued, the purr growing more pronounced in her tone. "A shame, that, since you are going to die tonight. I am going to kill you, Elizabeth."
Another sob forced down. I turned my head and stared her in her eyes, not letting my terror show even while my mind scrambled for some way out of this. Something about my desperate defiance made her chuckle, and her face got closer to mine until we were only the barest fractions of inches apart.
"Why?" I finally demanded, fear coloring into anger. "What have I ever done to you?"
"Absolutely nothing, pretty girl," she replied without missing a beat. "In fact, you've done quite a bit that I like. Which is why I am offering you something, too. I could simply slit your throat and bury you out back, because now you've seen too much. Or you can live forever. Your choice."
"What's the catch?" my reply was instant, reflexive, and I almost regretted saying it, but my 'hostess' only nodded, as though complimenting my good sense.
"Significant catches. For one thing, you still have to fear the death which sweeps in on raven's wings and does violence upon the living. For another, you'll have to serve me until such a time as I deem your education fit - and possibly for quite some time thereafter, depending on how loyal you are. My enemies will become yours, and you'll have to forsake and abandon your living friends and family. Of course, you'll also have eternal youth, power both mystical and political, and influence beyond your wildest dreams. There's significant benefits
too, you know."
Sweat ran into my eyes, and I blinked furiously to clear them. When my vision stopped swimming, the smiling teenager on my lap kissed me.
It was a strange sort of kiss to get while restrained - passionate, almost affectionate - and it was very hard for me not to return it on instinct. I was a lonely person, and in a way that spoke more profoundly than words ever could or would, that kiss told me she was lonely too.
"I'd rather not bury you out back," she murmured demurely. "But if it ever turns out that you don't like immortality, it's always an available option."
"Do it," I croaked out, not trusting myself with anything further.
When she leaned in again, I thought she was going to kiss me.
She did not.
* * *
I awoke on the floor, fragments of memory competing for my attention. A passionate kiss. A puddle of my own blood steaming on the floor. Attractive lips turned upwards into a smile flecked with red.
I died, didn't I?
I was helped up to my feet, and when I saw the girl who had had me kidnapped something screamed in the back of my mind - a howling, furious terror that I only barely fought down. She stood up on her tip-toes and planted another playful kiss on my lips before turning and sauntering off, waving for me to follow her.
"What now?" I demanded as I jogged up to her. She turned her head and smiled at me.
"Now? Right now we find you a big side of beef. Then, we talk. I'm glad you chose to come with me, Elizabeth Shore."
"I...think I am too, Prince." I spoke the last word with significant hesitation, not knowing if it was correct.
She gave me an odd, but pleased look, "You learn quickly, but please, my name is Astrid. I think we'll get along just fine."