Sam closed his eyes as he stumbled down the street. By then, the sun had long since set, leaving only the pale moon to compete against the electric lights that were slowly taking over the city. The great High Tower glowed with a spectacular energy, with artificial lighting pouring from the homes of the High Families. Beacons shone into the sky, serving no purpose other than to remind the populace of how much wealth the Families controlled.
In the second-to-outermost ring, where Sam slowly paced down the street, the lights were still old-fashioned lanterns. They flickered softly in the breeze, kerosene keeping the flames aloft and the streets safe. Only a few other people were visible, a handful women of the night, and an equal number of men likely looking to secure their services.
They knew my name. The thought wouldn’t leave Sam’s mind. He had heard that the restrictions on names hadn’t always been so prevalent. Once, you could simply introduce yourself without fear. Nowadays, the corporations owned everything. You never spoke your name aloud, or it could be copyrighted and purchased. You could be legally enslaved by someone you never met, simply from a careless slip of the tongue.
So how had they known his name? He had never signed a contract with anyone except the Fiery Steed. He had never placed his name on paper, it was a closely-guarded secret between himself, his parents, the hospital where he was born, and the Hall of Records. And yet, the two elves who clearly had no affiliation with the Fiery Steed had known his name. The only explanation that made sense was that they had either broken into the office of the Fiery Steed and stolen his information, or they had indeed come from the future.
“Why?” He whispered up at the night sky. “Why would you do this to me?”
He didn’t know what deity he was talking to. Some people had strong affiliations to specific gods, but he didn’t think that such devotion was truly necessary. From what he could see, all the gods sort of worked in concert with one another. Devoting yourself to a specific god just meant that the other gods wouldn’t pay attention when you needed something.
“Why?” He screamed up at the night sky. “Answer me!”
Silence was all he got in return. He fell to his knees as a horse and carriage rumbled past, likely taking a high-ranking member of society to a location in the slums. He closed his eyes and screamed once more, desperately trying to make it all make sense in his head.
He had a job. He didn’t just have any job: He had a job in one of the most prestigious taverns in the city. It wasn’t fantastic, but it put him in a position where he could impress many of the Family members. What better way to advance in society? Sure, he would never be as great as the Family themselves, but luxury was still in abundance for those who served the Families well. He could help his mother and father. He could ensure that they were taken care of, especially as they aged. Why in the wide, wide world would he abandon that?
The words floated back to him. His older self said that it was better. Was Donitor really that much greater than the Elven Confederation? Everything that Sam had heard was that it was barely civilized, and that wars constantly broke out between the settlers and the vampires. Mortality rates were high, and almost everything in the country was owned by dwarven corporations or the South Insultar Trading Company. Even if he became a business owner, he would be in a constant fight for survival. His parents would be in a constant fight for survival.
On the other hand, all he knew was what he had been told by the High Families themselves. Misinformation was a perfectly viable marketing strategy. It was possible that Donitor was actually a thriving land of opportunity and wealth. Maybe he would, indeed, be able to live like a king in the distant land. Maybe he would be able to give his parents the life that they truly deserved.
“You okay?” A withered hand came down on Sam’s shoulder.
Sam turned to look up into the eyes of his father. He sighed and climbed to his feet, facing the man who looked far older than he actually was. Wrinkles crossed his face, his posture was stooped, and pockmarks stood out across his skin where it had been damaged by chemicals and magic used by the Sewer Maintenance Conglomerate.
“No.” Sam wiped a tear from his eyes. He took a deep, shuddering breath. “Have you ever felt like the world is crashing down around you?”
“Of course.” His father nodded slowly. “You have no idea what your mother and I went through when we found out that she was pregnant with you.” He held Sam’s gaze for a brief moment before laughing and slapping his knee. “I kid, I kid. Come on, walk with me.”
He put an arm around Sam’s shoulder, pulling him close. Together, they started walking down the flickering street, together for what was likely one of the last times ever.
“How’d you know I’d be here?” Sam finally asked after they had traveled several blocks.
“Don’t insult me. I know my son.” His father patted him on the arm. “Do you have any idea how many times we’ve walked this way together?”
“I don’t think I could count that high.” Sam gasped for air as his shoulders began to quake. It was true. Every night, without missing a night, for entire years in a row. “And now it might be ending.”
“Talk to me.” His father gave him another squeeze. “What’s going on?”
Sam bit his lip. How did he even begin to explain it?
“Two elves showed up after work today.” He shrugged. “Technically before work ended, and then they waited around for me. They said that they were time travelers, and that they had a message for me from a future me.”
“Trust me when I say that I’ve heard weirder stories among the elite of this city.” His father sighed. “What was the message?”
“That I need to go to Donitor.” Sam stopped moving forward and turned to his father. “They said that I’ll have a life there better than anything I have here. And that the future me told them to deliver the message to… Me.”
“And so now you think you need to move to Donitor?” His father chuckled. “Come on, you don’t actually believe that, do you?”
“Dad, they knew my name.” Sam blinked rapidly as tears started trickling from the corners of his eyes. “They knew who I was. They had my actual name. I don’t know how, I’ve never written it anywhere, I used my legal placeholder when I signed the contract at the Fiery Steed, I-”
“They knew your name?” His father had grown deathly serious. “You’re certain of this?”
“Absolutely.” Sam nodded. “It wasn’t a slip. They even acted surprised when I was shocked by the fact that they knew my name. They weren’t accustomed to this time.”
“That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re time travelers.” His father soothed him. After a few seconds, he sighed. “It could, however, be a threat.”
“A threat?” Sam shook his head. “Blackmail doesn’t look like that. If you’re going to blackmail a person, you-”
“You tell a person to go somewhere else, that they’ll be far happier there than here, and that there will be consequences if that doesn’t happen.” His father bit his lip. “If you want my guess, this means that the Hall of Records was compromised. Someone broke in and stole the records.”
“So what do we do?” Sam began to shake again. “I… I…”
It took several more moments before he could speak again. “I was going to get paid at the end of this week. It was going to be enough to support us. All of us. You could get out of the sewers. You wouldn’t even have to work!” He gasped and tilted his head forward. “You would be able to stop killing yourself for me and mom.”
His father pulled him into a hug. He continued to speak even as they embraced, whispering into Sam’s ears.
“You worry about yourself. I love you, and I love your mom. I would do anything for you. Anything. And I will do anything I need to do to protect you.”
“Shh.” His father pulled back and put a crippled finger over Sam’s mouth. “You are the most important jewel in my life. I would work in the sewers for a thousand years more if it meant that you’d be safe. Right now, we need to get you out of the city. If we don’t, the next phase will be a bullet in your back, buried in a dark alley.”
Sam found himself unable to speak as his father laid out the plan.
“I have a bit of money saved up, and I can take out a loan from the Conglomerate. I’ll have to work double shifts for a year or so to pay it back off, but it’ll be enough to get you out of here. We’ll buy a train ticket to Donitor, comply with their wishes. Once you get there, get a job and write to us. Okay?”
Sam nodded tearfully. “Okay.”
“Good.” His father flashed a small smile and pointed down the street. “It’ll take a few days for the loan to go through. Let’s go home. You can spend a few days with your mother, out of the public eye in case they’re watching, and then you’ll be on your way.”
Sam once more found himself unable to speak so much as a single word. He simply sobbed as his father pulled him back along the road, back towards his home.
Whether they were indeed time travelers or simply corporate assassins, he was going to follow their words. He desperately wished that the time travel theory was correct, it gave him at least a small chance of seeing his parents again.
He was leaping into the unknown. Whether riches or spears lay below him, he had no way of knowing. All he could do was go on the word of the mysterious strangers, and hope that all turned out well in the end.
“You’re hired.” Sam felt a smile prick across his face as the cowboy held out his hand. “Name’s Arthur. We don’t have a huge operation here, but it’s something.”
Sam shrugged and crossed his arms. The unfamiliar leather chaps and suits felt odd against his skin, but there wasn’t much he could really do about it. “It looks good to me. You have an incredible view.”
Behind the barn, a massive mountain rose from the desert plains. It had been the reason he had chosen to ride through the gates of the ranch. It so reminded him of the way the Tower had framed his childhood home, he simply hadn’t been able to resist.
“It’s nice, isn’t it?” Arthur turned to gaze at it for a few seconds before shrugging and nodding a nearby coral. “Well, saddle up. Meet me out beyond the barn, we’ll be riding to the east pastures. I’ve got a herd out there that we need to check on.”
“Works for me.” Sam tipped his hat and turned to wander over to the coral. As he approached the coral, several of the mighty horses trotted over to meet him. He smiled and held out his hand, enjoying the feel of their noses sniffing at his fingertips.
It took him almost ten minutes to get the saddle off the nearby fence and draped across a horse that was particularly friendly. He decided to name it Flames, if it wasn’t already named. That way he truly could have a Fiery Steed.
As he mounted up, he caught a glimpse of Arthur peering around the edge of the barn. He was taking too long. Great. He spurred Flames onward and trotted over to meet him, where Arthur swung up onto his own horse.
“You look green.” Arthur commented as they started heading off into the wilderness. “How much experience do you have around horses anyway?”
Sam wiped his brow once before answering. Only in early spring, it was already hotter than it had ever reached in Desfinar.
“Some.” He sighed. “I worked for a dwarven salesman for a year after getting here. It was awful, but it let me save up a bit of money.”
“Really?” Arthur laughed. “How’d it feel selling that slop?”
“Made me feel plenty good about my ability to talk up a product.” Sam chuckled. “You wouldn’t believe the stuff those dwarves will throw together to try and make a profit.”
“No, what I wouldn’t believe is just how many people are willing to buy it.” Arthur coughed. “So tell me, then. If that’s all you’ve done before then, why come out here to this pit?”
Sam felt a momentary pang. It had been a year since he had heard from his parents, a year since he had been in any consistent location. A year during which he had no idea what in the world was happening with them.
“That’s a long story.” He finally managed. “Not something I want to talk about right now.”
“Fair enough.” Arthur sighed. “We’ve all got wraithguards in our closets. You ever need to blow something up to get your anger out, you just let me know.”
“I could use that, actually.” Sam nodded and sighed. “Sometimes, I just don’t understand things.”
Arthur simply nodded in reply. Together, the two of them continued to sweep across the dusty plains, occasionally making small talk, but mostly just riding in silence. Sam did have to admit that the scenery was beautiful. The mountain, the red rock formations, the sagebrush and the cacti. And yet… It just wasn’t the same as where he had been.
What glory would come from this? What great advancements would his life make out here? He still wasn’t sure if the two elves had truly been time travelers or simply corporate assassins, and he frankly didn’t care. He was lost, alone, in Donitor. Everyone he cared about was an entire continent away. Everyone he loved was working themselves to death to keep him safe.
The two of them reached the herd of cattle mid-day, and spent well over an hour circling up the herd to check for injuries or other signs of trouble. They had to rope and tie down one of the particularly large bulls to pull a rock out of his foot, which wasn’t a pleasant experience in the slightest.
By the time they got back to the ranch, the sun was setting on the horizon and Sam felt as though he had fallen down a mountainside. They dismounted and led their horses into the barn, taking several minutes to clean the mighty beasts as well as feed them the appropriate amount of grain. As the two of them walked back out into the driveway, Arthur took off his hat and wiped his brow.
“You did good today.” Arthur sighed and kicked at the dirt. “You’re hired.”
Sam raised an eyebrow. “I thought I was already hired.”
“You were hired for the day. Now you’re hired full-time.” Arthur shrugged. “There’s an extra room in the house, Abigale will show you to it. If you want to write a letter to anyone, she can show you the pens and paper. We rise with the sun, so don’t stay up too late. I withhold the right to fire you at any time.”
Sam simply nodded in thanks, then made his way up and into the ranch home. Abigale, a tiny baby on her arm, met him and quickly enough showed him to his room. At Sam’s request, she left him with a large piece of paper and a quill pen. He sat down at the small desk and quickly enough began to write. His body ached for sleep, but he didn’t want to wait a single day.
“Hi Mom, hi Dad.” He felt his body beginning to quiver again, and forced the emotion down. “I’ve got a job now. A real job this time. You can address your mail to Arthur, town of Redthorn in Donitor. I’ll be here for awhile, so we should be able to actually communicate.”
A smile broke across his face, the first real smile that he had experienced since he left the Elven Confederation. “I can’t wait to hear from you. Not much has changed since the last time I wrote other than the new job. I have a horse now too. I’m naming him Flames, assuming Arthur lets me. If not, I’ll just call him that in my head.”
Dozens more thoughts flashed through his mind. He began to describe the farm in as much detail as he could, even drawing small sketches in the margins. He described the mountain that framed the barn, described the fight to free the stone from the foot of the bull. He described the path from the ranch to the town, then went ahead and wrote a bit on the town of Redthorn itself.
By the time he finished, the moon was high in the sky overhead. He blew on the ink to dry it, then folded it into the envelope, crept out into the rest of the house, and laid it on a table next to the door. As he fell into bed, he knew that he would be exhausted the next day. That said, he didn’t particularly care.
He could talk with his parents, and that was all he needed to know.
“Hey, I’m taking the elves back into town.” Arthur called into the house. “You want to come?”
Sam shook his head and flopped onto the couch. It was the morning following the assault on the vampire forces at Lake Ondswania, and he was exhausted. “You told us we could take it easy today, so I’m doing that. I’ll head out and start feeding the animals a bit later, but I don’t really feel like doing much else.”
“Fair enough.” Arthur doffed his hat at Abigale, who had just walked into the room. “See you in a few hours.”
With that, he stomped out of the house, his unnaturally loud footfalls making thumps reverberate throughout the home. Abigale cast a loving glance in Arthur’s direction before walking into another room to keep working on her painting.
Sam just took a deep breath and tried to keep from panicking. It was the same two elves. They were the same two people, though they didn’t seem to recognize him. And they hadn’t aged a single day. They had been telling the truth all those years ago: They were time travelers. It was as simple as that.
The implications of it made his brain hurt. It meant that he hadn’t been in corporate trouble. The hushed tones, the rushed exit from the city, it simply hadn’t been necessary. What it did mean was that things were going to get better. They had to, right? After all, in the future, he was going to tell the two elves to tell his younger self to travel out to Donitor.
He just didn’t understand it. He had been in Donitor for years. Almost fifteen years at that point. He had been able to save up a bit of money, but no matter what he tried, taxes or unexpected expenses drained it from his pockets. His life hadn’t been improving, he hadn’t been moving up the ladder in any sense of the word. Not to mention that there wasn’t really anywhere to move in Donitor. The richest landlords in the country barely lived at the same level as his parents in the Elven Confederation.
So what did it all mean? Was he supposed to move his parents out to Donitor? Was he supposed to strike it rich by discovering an untapped vein of gold? What in Sarkil was he supposed to be doing? What could his future self possibly see in this wasted land that he didn’t already have back in the land of the elves?
But… It was his future self. He had to trust his future self. He would know things in the future that he couldn’t know now. Which meant that things got better. The impossibly long hours that he had been suffering through for fifteen years at that point… They were going to get better. The blisters, the cuts, the bruises… All of it was going to end. All of it was going to get better.
He just had to trust. He just had to stay focused, stay the course, and he would prosper.
He only hoped that it would happen sooner than later.
“Hi, Sam.” Abigale swept through the front door of the home, a package tucked under her arm. “Looks like you got something at the post office. It’s from your dad.”
Sam grinned and climbed to his feet. Maybe this was it! It had been two more years since he had last seen the time travelers. Maybe this was what he had been waiting for. Word that his parents were moving to Donitor so they could be together! It would make working at the ranch rather interesting, but it was possible!
“Ooh, what is it?” Sam took the package from under her arm. It was wrapped in simple brown paper, the only paper that his parents could afford, and was about the same size as his fist. He walked over to the table and began to tear off the paper as Abigale and Dalton crowded around him. Even Arthur walked into the room a moment later, coming up behind him and placing his hands on Sam’s shoulders.
“Come on, open it!” Arthur encouraged. “We’ve been waiting ever since we picked it up. This is the first time your parents have ever sent more than a letter, right?”
“Uh, huh.” Sam nodded absently as he tore the paper away. It revealed a small box with a hastily scribbled letter sitting on top. He set the letter aside without reading it and began to tear open the box. “The trains make you pay postage by how heavy…”
His voice trailed off as he popped the box open. Inside was a single object: A pearl necklace that he instantly recognized as belonging to his mother. A hollow cavern opened up inside his chest, and he slowly picked up the letter.
It was written in his father’s handwriting. He hadn’t seen his father write so much as a single word since arriving in Donitor, since the damage done to his hands made it almost impossible to make his words legible. As such, it took several painful minutes to piece together the words that composed the letter.
“My son… I’m afraid that there’s been a terrible accident. Your mother fell from the balcony. She was dead before anyone found her. I’m sorry to tell you this way. I thought you should have this.”
Sam read the words out loud, gasping softly as it struck him. His mother was gone. He had last spoken to her years earlier, when he had promised her that they would see one another again. He had promised.
“I’m saving up to come out to meet you. I should have enough in a month or two. See you soon. Love, Dad.”
Sam let his arms fall to his side. His chest gave a single heave as he desperately tried to breathe. No. Now, this couldn’t be happening!
“I’ll leave you alone.” Arthur’s voice was soft. “Come on, guys.”
“Wait.” Sam’s voice was barely a whisper. He turned to look up at his employer, who had been so much more than that over the years. “Stay. Please. You’ve done so much for me, I need someone here.”
Arthur nodded and placed his hands back on Sam’s shoulders.
As he sobbed, a single line of thought spread through his mind. How was this better? How was this better? What could possibly make him think, in another fifty years or so, that missing half of the life of his mother was a good thing? That forcing his father to go through all of that by himself was a good thing? What cruel deity would twist his mind into thinking that he could possibly get enjoyment out of it?
“At least your dad will be here soon.” Arthur’s voice was soft. “I’ll start making room for the two of you. No reason for him to stay in town, or for both of you to stay somewhere else. He’s had a hard life, he’ll live like family.”
“Thanks.” Sam wheezed. “Thank you.” It was the only thing he could say, even as his mind desperately fought for some semblance of hope. “Thank you.”
“You’ve been a good hand.” Arthur held out his hand, which Sam gratefully shook. “I’m going to miss you.”
“I’ll miss you, too.” Sam bit the inside of his lip, trying desperately not to cry once more. “It’s been a ride.”
In the distance, off at the ranch, the South Insultar Trading Company would be taking possession of the ranch where Sam had spent so much of his life. It was an insult to Arthur, it was an insult to him, and… And there was nothing they could do about it. The corporation had purchased everything, the land, the home, even Arthur himself. And now Arthur and his family were being deported. Sam, conversely, had actually been barred from leaving Donitor. Something about a broken contract with the Apician Family. It had been so long since Sam had left the Elven Confederation that he didn’t even know what that was referring to.
“Indeed, it has.” Arthur sighed. “If we can make it back to Desfinar, I’ll see what I can learn about your dad. I’ll write if I learn anything.”
Sam nodded. An ache rose in his heart, but no tears appeared. He had already spent so much of his life crying over his parents. After his mother died… Nothing more had ever shown up. Maybe his dad had died on the job trying to save up the money to leave. Maybe he had been killed to prevent such a long-time worker from leaving. Maybe he had been ambushed on the road. Sam didn’t know, and he likely never would know.
This was better. This would be better. He shut down the pain and took a deep breath. He had to trust his future self. This was better.
“Thank you.” He finally spoke up. “You’ve meant the world to me.”
“Same.” Arthur held out a hand, which Sam gladly shook. “I look forward to seeing you again, someday. You’re the only ranch hand who stuck with me through everything. You’re as good as family as far as I’m concerned.”
“Believe me when I say that the same is true in reverse.” Sam sighed. Off to the side, guards from the South Insular Trading Company began shifting the guns in their hands, and Sam nodded. “Alright, then. Off with you!”
Arthur tipped his hat, then turned around and began walking to the train. Abigale and Dalton took his hands there, and… With that, Sam was once more left alone.
As the train roared off into the distance, Sam closed his eyes and tried to blink away the tears. Once more, alone. Once more, lost in the wilds of Donitor. Where else could he go? What else could he do? He had no family. At fifty years old, he was far too ancient to start a family. All he could do…
All he could do was try to find a job that would support him. He sighed and turned to the saloon. He had a few spare coins left in his pocket. Maybe, if he was lucky, it would buy enough drinks to knock him out. Maybe, if he was even luckier, it would lead him to wherever he was going.
It was going to get better. It was going to get better.
His future self wouldn’t lie to him.
It was going to get better.
“Get out of here!” Sam growled at the gunslinger. “Now!”
The man, half drunk, turned and stumbled from the bar without any more frustration. As the doors fell shut, Sam forced a smile. The other patrons of the bar visibly relaxed, and he took a deep breath.
He had his own bar. It wasn’t much, but he owned his own bar. Take that, Family. He would never have been elevated to actual ownership back in the Elven Confederation. He would have been stuck as a low-level entry, a slave to the desires of whoever happened to employ him.
“I did it, Mom.” He whispered softly. With luck, the windcasters of Sintison knew what they were talking about. He desperately willed that his voice would carry on the winds to wherever her soul rested. “I did it.”
His posture was stooped, like that of his father. His hands were wrinkled, worn and tattered after years under the heat. His eyesight was fading, it hurt to move… But he was an owner. He was a slave to no man.
“Are you Sam Bricklayer?” A man in a tan suit walked into the tavern and strode up to the bar. “I represent the South Insultar Trading Company, and I-”
“I ain’t selling out.” Sam growled and stomped over to where the man stood.
“Sir, I just ask for a moment of your time.” The man held up his hands. “The company doesn’t want you to sell out. Redthorn is a perfect tourist location! Just think about it! We build a resort up in the mountains. This little town serves as the perfect frontier town, preserved from the progress of the rest of the world.”
“And all you need as payment is my freedom.” Sam snarled. “Out!”
“No, you misunderstand me.” The man shook his head. “We’ll invest in your business! We pay for the repairs to this bar. Fix it up real nice. We don’t even want a controlling share, we just want to make sure it’s pretty so the tourists-”
“I said no.” Sam snapped. “It might start out innocent, but you’ll take it all in the end. You always do.” He slammed a fist against the bar. “I got this for my parents. This is all I have left. You’re not taking it from me.”
The man held his gaze for a brief moment before nodding and turning away. He vanished through the swinging doors, and Sam took a deep, shuddering breath. Slowly, he reached beneath the counter and withdrew a small painting.
Abigale had fashioned it for him, years earlier. It showed his mother and father standing next to each other in front of his childhood home. The tower rose behind them, that symbol of oppression and terror that they had all stood up against.
“I did it.” A tear dripped down from his eye and landed on the paint. “I made our dream come true. And I’m not giving it up. No matter what. I’m happy here. This is my life, and it’s been a good one. I’m not going to sully your memory.”
He slowly placed the painting back under the bar, aware that everyone else in the bar had likely seen his outburst, but not particularly caring.
He had the life he had always dreamed of. Why would he care what anyone else thought?
All he needed to do was meet the strange elves one more time. He would ensure that his young self was set on the path that he now walked.
And then all would be right with the world.
“What’s happening to me?” Sam slowly rose back to consciousness, aware that he seemed to be in a far darker location than the bar. “Where am I?”
“Deepwater cave.” A deep voice hissed back. “Welcome to our ranks, brother.”
Sam shook his head. “What? What ranks?”
“Take the sack off his head.”
A cloth sack was roughly pulled from his head, revealing him to indeed be sitting in a cave. It was still dark, though not nearly as much as it had once been. He was sitting next to a small fire, along with four other individuals, all of whom were dressed like vampires.
His eyes shot open wide. He began to pat himself down, held his hands up to the fire, and tried to take a deep breath.
Quite unfortunately, he found that his lungs didn’t work. His hands were pale and transparent, his body felt lighter than it had ever felt before. He almost felt like he was several years younger, though not in a good sense.
“I’m a vampire.” His voice had even changed. “You turned me!”
“Not us.” The man just next to him, an enormous human with deathly pale skin and sunken eyes, shook his head. “We’re the ones like you. The ones that they get hired to turn. Once we’re undead, they don’t really care what we do.” He sighed and climbed to his feet. “There are about a dozen of us here. We’re just the welcoming committee. Come down into the cave anytime you want to meet the rest of us.”
Sam watched him go, stunned. He turned back to the fire, a strange clarity of mind settling over him. He slowly raised his head, staring at the other three vampires. Two were female, one human and one aqahartis, while the other male was an elf. All three looked back at him, sympathy in their eyes. Or at least as much sympathy as one who was undead could have.
“How long do we live like this?” Sam sighed.
“Unless you’re killed, you’re functionally immortal now.” The human shrugged, her hair fluttering around her shoulders. “We always tell the humans that we have mortal lifespans, but that’s mostly just to keep them from really trying to kill us all. You really only age when you get hit by the sun. Stay out of the light, you’ll stay at the same age you were when you were bit.”
“Is there a cure?” Sam whispered, dreading the answer. He had been asked the same question by the elves so many times, and had always given them the same answer. Now, he was both desperate and terrified to hear the words come from the mouth of another vampire.
“None that any of us know.” The human climbed back to her feet. “If you hear of one, let me know. There are a few people here I wouldn’t mind turning and eating.”
Sam nodded numbly. So much information was pouring through his mind at once that he really wasn’t sure what to do. He wanted to ride out in search of a cure, but no mortal was going to help him. He wanted to scream, he wanted to die, he wanted…
He wanted a better life. And now he was trapped as a vampire. He tilted his head back and screamed at the ceiling of the cave, a lifetime of anguish and pain roaring through his body.
He had trusted those elves. Back in Desfinar, he had trusted them. He had followed their every command, and what had it gotten him? He had been trampled. His parents had died without him. He had been forced to live out a miserable existence under the sun of Donitor instead of living a life of luxury with people he loved in the Elven Confederation.
And the worst part? The elves had known. Hesione and Paulin had seen him as a bartender. They had seen him attacked by vampires, and they had still gone back in time to meet him as a child in the lap of luxury. And they had told him to go to Donitor. They had ruined his life. They had ensured an unworthy death. They had taken everything from him.
His jaw set itself, his mouth formed a firm line. Maybe they had taken everything from him, but two could play that game. He didn’t care how many centuries it took, how many millennia he had to wait in the quiet.
He would make sure that he saw those elves again. And when he found them, he would make them pay for each and every last minute that they had taken from him.
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