Mira stood staring into the darkness of the cave, her white shift blowing slightly in the breeze. She was average in all ways. She had average brown hair, average brown eyes, average weight, average height, average intelligence, and average bravery. She was just average. She had been dreading this moment since she had watched the first of her sisters commit to the path. She was the last of this generation. Mira wasn’t sure if it was better to have lived a longer life dreading what would come or if it would have been better to have died first and lose what little time she had been given.

The ceremony was almost over. He was inside the cave waiting for her.

She had him pictured as some kind of vicious, desperate creature. The druids had kept him around for centuries and she could hear the lessons she had been taught since she was a child running through her head. Mira had even helped to teach the new generation of girls about him. She went over the lessons in her head as she waited for the high priestess to be done with her speech.

Rillan Tiernay was created to protect and serve the circle. He was a guardian, an assassin, and a vampire. Each generation a group of girls was picked to be sacrificed to his thirst. This was his condition for his loyalty. He had come to despise what he was, but his self preservation instinct was too strong for him to kill himself. Each girl given to him was there to feed him until she died or asked him to kill her. Then she was replaced by another. Once she was sent into the caves she could not leave and only came to the gateway to collect the supplies that the druids left nightly. Rillan left only when there was an assignment from the druids. Every girl who entered the cave believes that maybe she will be different. Perhaps she won’t want to die. Most last several months. The longest was ten years. The girl who had gone before Mira had lasted three weeks.

Mira looked up from her thoughts to find that the high priestess had stopped speaking, and everyone was waiting for Mira to finish the ceremony. They were patient and stood quietly. Mira didn’t know how long they had waited for her to realize it was her turn. Now as she looked around she was more afraid of what was to happen to her then she had thought she would be. The lessons were all so cut and dry; so matter of fact. This is what they had to do to survive. If not for Rillan their circle would have been found, and they would have been destroyed long ago. The sacrifices were all voluntary. The girls went to him as a service to their people. She couldn’t stop her mind from churning.

Mira walked forward. The moon was high in the sky and blood red. It cast an eerie light about the clearing beyond the gate. She stepped through the tall, rusted iron gateway, and she heard it creak as it swung shut behind her. The sound of the gate lock clanking sent a jolt though her and the last of her courage seemed to have been locked on the other side. She looked into the darkness beyond the mouth of the cave trying to see if he was watching, but she couldn’t see anything. The little light that touched the mouth of the cave seemed to be swallowed into the black. In all the times she had delivered food or other supplies to the cave it had never seemed this ominous.

The clearing in front of the cave mouth was unkempt. Unlike all the other gardens kept by the druids, this one was off limits. It was for her to take care of, if she wanted, as long as she never stepped past the gate. There was the carved stone alter at the center of the clearing in front of the cave mouth. That was where he would leave her body after her death, so that the druids would know that it was time for a new sacrifice. There was the table where they would leave food for her and any supplies that she requested. There was the stone basin where letters could be left. She was never to speak to anyone but Rillan from now until her death. It was as though she was taking inventory of her new life as she looked at each cold thing in the clearing in turn. She could almost feel loneliness creeping up on her from the shadows cast about her like a demon in the dark.

Mira turned around to see if the others were still watching. There was no one. The gate had been locked and she was standing alone. All that was left for her was to enter the cave and find him. Her eyes traveled the twisted metal archway that she had studied so many times in the past. Now it was backward as she stood on the wrong side of it. Finally.

She took a deep breath and walked toward the cave mouth in a resolute fashion. Her breathing was purposeful and audible. Best to get this over with. The breeze blew her shift around her legs. There were rumors that he would insist that she walk about naked after he took her. That was why the sacrifices didn’t bring clothes with them into his home. The dirt floor was packed hard and her feet made a soft padding sound as she entered the darkness. Mira lifted the front of her shift so that she wouldn’t step on it as she stooped under a low ceiling in the tunnel and continued further into the darkness.

Rillan must live like an animal in here, she thought. The stone wall was cold and damp under her hand as she used it to guide her way. I wonder if he’ll come get me or if I’ll wander in here for hours before finding my way. The least he could do is provide some light. Mira was beginning to become frustrated and more frightened. She couldn’t see in the black and she was tripping on either her shift or loose stone. Suddenly there was a swishing noise. Like something flying and she screamed. She fell to her knees and a stone bit into the palm of her hand.

Mira held her wrist and turned to sit on the floor with her back against the wall. What if I took a wrong turn or missed some sign. The tunnels were rumored to be endless so that no one could find Rillan should he choose to not be found. It was a test of the new sacrifices. The girls were supposed to find him to prove that they were worthy. Some test. Stumbling around in pitch black, down caves with no end, looking for something that I don’t want to find and doesn’t want to be found.

Mira began to cry. She knew that she had only been here a few minutes, five maybe fifteen, but it felt like forever. So she waited. She wasn’t going to be fool enough to wander around in here. He could come get her if he wanted her. Without being able to see the moon or sky Mira couldn’t tell how much time passed. Eventually she fell asleep leaning against the wall.

When she opened her eyes Mira could see daylight streaming in from the entrance. It was only about a hundred feet away. She could have sworn that she had gone farther into the cave than that. She couldn’t see any deeper into the cave than maybe fifty more feet ahead of her. Mira stood up. She didn’t know why he hadn’t come looking for her. He had to know that last night was the sacrifice. She was feeling foolish and guilty. Daylight chased away the fear, but now she was worried he would be angry at her for taking so long to come to him. She could see now that there was only one way to go. The cave went on into the mountain side in a straight line from what she could tell.

Gathering her courage she stood up and brushed herself off and then headed resolutely into the darkness again. This time she kept one hand on the wall and one above her head and in front of her, in case the ceiling dropped again. It wasn’t long before the hall curved and the packed dirt changed to stone. She felt the difference under her feet. Mira bent down to touch the ground and found that it felt like stonework. Like a floor that had been made or carved. It certainly didn’t feel like natural stone. She traced one pavestone with her fingers and then stood up again and followed the wall.

Farther down the cave and the wall changed under her hand. The stone went from feeling like a cave wall to feeling like a castle wall. Just like the floor, she thought. Now curiosity was winning out over all the other emotions racing through her. Mira moved more quickly down the hall. She wasn’t afraid of the ceiling dropping again so she put her hand out in front of her like a blind man feeling for obstacles in his path.

When her hand ran across wood in the wall she stopped. Mira’s breath increased as she felt the wood under her hand. There were slats that were held together by metal cross work and bolts. Then her hand found the doorknob. Her heart seemed to pound in her chest. She wondered if she had found him. That wasn’t so hard, she thought with a strange, smug sense of accomplishment. She turned the knob and the door opened onto more blackness. “Hello,” she called, but there was nothing.

Mira walked blindly into the room. Her hands both held out in front of her, she walked straight forward a few feet. She almost fell over when her foot hit something with a loud thud that echoed out the door and down the hallway. She reached down and her hands found a crate. She felt around it and found that there were a number of crates along the floor. She was about to leave it and try to move around it, when it occurred to her that she may have found a store room. Mira pushed the lid off the crate and found it full of fabric of some kind. She crawled around on the floor groping about until she found another crate and pushed the lid off that one. This crate contained jars. It is a store room, her thoughts raced excitedly. When she ran into a wall she felt her way up and found shelves. One at a time she carefully felt her way along the shelves. There were books, small boxes, small jars, more fabric, paper, scrolls. Finally she found what she was looking for, a lantern. There were several lanterns on that part of the shelf.

She pulled down one of the lanterns and felt the weight of it. She guessed it already held oil in it. Now she needed some tinder twigs. She felt her way back to the small boxes. The first one held something small and round, the next something square. She didn’t know what the things were but they weren’t tinder twigs so she moved on. She found a box of straight pins and a box of spools of thread. She was about to give up when she found the tinder twigs. They were in a small box almost directly under the lanterns. She smiled and shook her head as she took one of the think wooden sticks out of the box and felt for the striker.

Mira paused as she held the tinder twigbox in her hand. The lantern was ready. She’d finally be able to see where she was going. It was strange, but a funny kind of fear pulled at her stomach again. She had been so obsessed with what she was doing that she almost forgot why she was in this dark place. Suddenly it felt as if she was being watched. He could be right next to her and she wouldn’t know it. Her mind raced irrationally as she imagined striking the tinder twig and having an evil face appear in the light staring at her. “Hello,” she called meekly into the dark. Maybe I don’t want to see, she thought.

“Get a hold of yourself,” she said out loud. The sound of her voice was comforting. Mira struck the tinder twig and lit the lantern. To her relief, when light flooded the room, all she found were opened crates and shelves of stored goods. If she didn’t know better she would have thought she was in a castle storage room. Not in a cave, deep in a mountain, looking for a vampire who would inevitably drain the life out of her. Not that the idea of being in a castle wasn’t strange either. But hell, where else would a vampire live, right?

Mira took another deep breath, held the lantern out and left the room. It was much easier going now. The light gave her confidence. It turned out the rumors were correct. There were quite a few halls that criss crossed, now that she was in the manmade section of the tunnels. How am I going to find him? She asked herself as she looked down several hallways. Other than that first door she hadn’t seen any others. She tried listening carefully down the halls for some noise but didn’t hear anything. “Hello,” she called down one of the halls a bit more loudly than she had before. Her voice echoed back toward her. So she called down one of the other halls. Again her voice echoed back. When she called down the third hall it was different. “Hello,” she called again. There was no echo here.

“Something has to be absorbing the sound,” she said aloud. “Furniture, maybe.” Mira gathered herself and headed down the hallway. There were doors in this one. She opened the first door and held up the lantern. The room was a library. There were books lining shelves. There was a chair and a table. There was a large assortment of papers and writing things on a small desk. There was a rug on the floor and a pile of crumpled papers in one corner. Mira stepped back into the hall. “What kind of vampire collects books,” she whispered.

She closed the door behind herself as she continued to walk down the hallway. She found the cause of the lack of echoing. There were tapestries on some of the walls down this hall. Mira started to open another door when a sound caught her attention. At first she thought she may be losing her mind. There was clanging. Metal clanging. Sword fighting clanging. She followed the sound of metal crashing against metal. It was all so strange. This was never covered in the lessons, she thought. The clashing noises became louder as she walked down the hall. When she came to the end of the hall the sounds stopped. She stared at the large carved, wooden, double doors that filled the end of the hallway. There was light streaming out from under the doors.

Mira’s stomach churned. She hadn’t eaten breakfast and she could feel bile rise in her throat. She wished that the clanging would start again. The silence was dreadful. Finally she reached out and turned the handle on the door. It was well worn and smooth. It released easily and the door swung silently in letting light fall into the hallway from the multitude of candles in the wrought iron chandelier that hung from the high ceiling.

Mira didn’t really see him at first. She was looking for a monster. Some pale, gaunt, angry beast that would fall on her and drain the life from her body. What she saw was much different. Rillan Tiernay was tall, built like a warrior. The stories had described him as noble and brave. But that was before he was turned into a vampire. Mira, like those who had come before her, had believed that the man of legend had changed when he was turned into a bloodsucking assassin. Obviously she was wrong. He had dark blue eyes and black hair. His skin was tanned dark, not pale at all. He was wearing leather armor and there was a sword leaning against a dummy that was dressed in armor as well. It was holding a shield and looked severely battered. He was handsome. He was larger than most of the men were in her village. But legend had it that he wasn’t originally a druid, nor was he from her village. He had been a warrior of the Celtic clans before the Romans had assimilated them. He had come to the druids seeking a way of vengeance against the Roman conquerors.

Just as she was measuring him, he stood measuring her. She knew what he would see. She never thought of herself as anything special. What was worse; she had been wandering around in the dark and had fallen on the ground. Her hand was scraped up, and she hadn’t a hair brush or a chance to wash before this meeting. “Come in girl.” His accent was strong, as if he barely spoke the language. “You’ve been more resourceful than most of the others. I believe you are the first to actually find a lantern and get here without being lost in the labyrinth for a few days.”

Mira found herself annoyed by the comment and almost forgot she was afraid as she answered. “Do you find it amusing to let us grope about in the dark, frightened and lost for several days?”

Rillan walked toward her. His purposeful strides made her wonder if this was it. He was going to bite her. She let out a yelp and fell back into the door, dropping the lantern on the floor with a clatter. When he reached her he stared into her eyes searchingly. His expression was hard and icy and his cold blue eyes seemed to look into her soul. When he replied to her question his voice was low and warning. “No, I don’t find it amusing. But I do find that after a few days alone in the dark even, my company is looked upon as a welcome alternative. Usually when they see me after the darkness they don’t jump in fear. Like you did.”

Mira felt a little ashamed. “I didn’t- I mean I’m not-” She stared into his eyes as he stood over her and tried to find the words to explain why her lessons hadn’t properly prepared her to take on her duties with more strength than she had shown.

He cut her off. “I’m used to it.” As he spoke he leaned in and breathed heavily. Mira got the impression that he was smelling her. When he pulled away his pupils seemed to bleed into the rest of his eyes until they were solid black. Then he blinked and it was like she had been seeing things.

“I’ll show you where your room is,” he said. Then he turned and went back to the dummy wearing the armor, picked up the sword, and walked out of the room. Mira took a moment to collect herself and then followed him out. She almost forgot the lantern. As he disappeared into the darkness she grabbed it and then hurried to catch up.

She followed him back down the hallway she had come from. He opened one of the doors that was toward the very beginning of the hall. It led into another hallway that was lined with more tapestries and doors. As he led her down the hall she tentatively asked, “Is it always this dark in here?”

Rillan abruptly stopped, turned around to look at her, then he grabbed a candle off a sconce on the wall. He tossed it to her. “These are your quarters. This hall and these rooms. There are candles. You can light them if you wish, but the rest of the chamber is mine. There it is always dark.” With that he turned around and led her to the door at the far end of the hall. Pushing the door open he walked into the room and crossed the floor to a fireplace that was against the far wall. He picked up a tinder twig and walked back toward her. Rillan used her lantern to light the twig and then tossed it into the fireplace.