the corner. He knew she was not truly there, but the voice of the other ensured he did not look
away as it whispered in his ear. He saw her many times, always a mirage, always torturous.
Unsure if his rage outweighed his disappointment at her absence, he listened.
She mocks you, young one. She told those men where to find you. She told them lies about
you. They could know nothing without her betrayal. You will find her. Make her bleed. You will
find her and make her pay for each transgression. Sink your teeth deep within her and watch the
blood flow over the ground. Drink her dry until her offences are but a memory. It will ease the
agony, as nothing else will.
Merik saw her a thousand times during his short stay in the cellar. The pain sliced
through him, and it would not ease no matter how much his father fed him. Nothing helped to
suffuse the suffering until he began seeing Hannah in the confines of the cell.
He saw her exactly as she looked that night at the clearing. In spite of himself, he found
himself reaching for her hand, and did so each time she appeared to him. Desire bubbled to the
surface and he despised it, closing his eyes against the sight of her. The image played over and
over in his mind, running like a crooked wheel. He saw the woman who destroyed him, the
woman who destroyed his brothers, and he could think only of making her suffer—until he
thought of touching her again.
The bottle shattered in his hand from the force of his grasp, and he looked down to see
shards of glass embedded within the flesh of his palm. When he looked up, Hannah was gone.
Hannah realized Merik had left her doors unlocked. Again. Did he believe she would stay
now that she knew his true name and nature? She dare not utter the real question plaguing her,
but it invaded her mind nonetheless.
Is he right? A large ember escaped from the iron latticework in front of the fire, landing
on the rug at her feet. She watched it smoulder.
Smoke curled up in delicate tendrils, disappearing before reaching the high ceiling. She
stared for several long moments, willing the flame to grow, to consume her. It held the colour of
Merik’s eyes, burning gold and crimson. A small flame flickered to life, hungry for progress
until she stamped it out with the heel of her foot.
Rising from the fire to flop on her bed, she stopped short as an echo rang through the hall.
Certain her battered senses played tricks on her, she pulled back her covers to lay down but heard
Whether it was a call of rage, grief, or agony she could not distinguish. It came from
Merik’s quarters, echoing deep within the shadows of the hall. Padding to her door, she warred
between anger over his treatment of her and the desire to ease his pain.
She could not ignore the fact he’d told her the truth. Pulling a robe about her shoulders,
she kicked off her charred slipper. Without consulting her mind, she made the decision with her
heart. She rested her hand on the door, opening the barrier between her and the unknown.
“Shit. Shit, shit, shit. What am I doing? I can stay in my rooms. There is hardly any need
to go out there.”
Another tortured cry rose in the air, strengthening her resolve to help Merik.
Lighting a candle, she forced herself to go into the hall. Another cry rang through the air,
and as she got closer to Merik’s chamber, she finally understood what he was saying. Her name.
“I’m coming, Merik.” Running to his room, she entered through the open door to see an
empty chamber. Desperation overrode the fear hammering her heart against her chest. The room
smelled of blood, of sickness. Could Vetala even get sick? Could they die?
“No, please no, not again. Merik? Merik, please call my name.”
He groaned. As she followed the source of the noise, the candle shook in her hand. The
hot wax stung her flesh when she stopped several steps in front of a half-open door set in the
“Merik?” The smell of death clung to the entrance and she gagged. The candle wobbled
in her hand. She steadied it, saying a quick thanks to God it did not go out. She could not bear to
go forth in the darkness without light. Setting the candle on the floor, she swung the door wide.
The candle flickered as she picked it up. Fear twisted her guts and no matter how she tried, she
could not stop her hands from shaking. She took another step.
“Merik?” It took her eyes several moments to see more than a foot from her face. When
she saw him in the dim light, she gasped. He now stood in front of her. It took her several more
moments to realize he was not standing of his own volition, but rather restrained by chains
embedded in the stone wall. When he lifted his head, she covered her mouth to stifle a scream.
Eyes of molten gold and crimson stared back at her. His jaw and facial bones were
distended, his hands curled into claws. The changes were much more severe than the few
instances she attributed to the loss of her mind.
“I…I…” Stepping back toward the entrance, her gaze never left Merik’s. She turned her
back on him to commence a rather spineless retreat, but could not get her feet to cooperate.
“Hannah?” The voice held much more than pain. What? Desperation? Hope? She could
not move as her heart and mind waged war. Despite his appearance, she knew beneath the angled
bone protruding from his flesh, his distorted face, and the fangs visible in his mouth, Merik stood
in front of her. The man she met a decade before. The man looking at her with the same single
focused intensity with which he always did. The man she loved.
Taking another step and hearing nothing but her own harsh breathing, she took one more.