Chapter 14
A Devil's Pact

Outside Greystone, Gladius; Gladian Year 597

"A man will go to great lengths for power, even sell his own soul. What are you willing to do?"
- Inscription on the Well of Castle Ban

Count Cadmus Martial, a lieutenant in the Royal Gladian Army's Cavalry Regiment, was out on a routine patrol. He hated doing such trivial work. He was worth more and he would see that the King came to appreciate his worth.
He was already taking steps in the right direction. The influential Flavius family had taken an interest in him and he married their youngest daughter. Instead of settling for the lowly barony he inherited from his father, he was now a count. The King should have already named him captain of the regiment. He had connections in the court, so his day would come. He was certain of it.
"Are you truly so certain?" a raspy voice asked.
The voice was followed by blood-curdling screams. Turning his head, Cadmus saw both the men he was riding with and their mounts torn to shreds by invisible hands. For the sake of the proud Cadmus name, he did not let the horrific sight unnerve him. Rather, he drew his sword to challenge the unknown assailant.
"Who's there!?" he barked. "If you be men, show yourselves!"
The raspy voice only laughed.
"Steel is no match for my power. If I wanted you dead, I would have killed you already. You look like a valuable man. I am willing to offer you a boon."
"A boon?" Cadmus asked. "What kind of boon? For what purpose?"
"You will have the power you so desire," the voice replied, "more than you would ever achieve on your own. This land will be overtaken by an invasion. The victory of the invaders is already a forgone conclusion, but it would benefit everyone if things were... facilitated. Find those willing to betray the King of this land and lead them when the time comes."
"How do I know I can trust you?" Cadmus asked warily.
"It is not within your power. Do you think I spared you for nothing? I could easily find another..."
"No, wait!" Cadmus hastily blurted. "I'll do it!"
"Good," the raspy voice hissed with relish. "There is one more thing you must do for me..."
"Am I not leading a treason for you!?"
"No, your betrayal is for the sake of the invasion. What I demand of you is different. Your wife is with child. She will bear twins, a male and a female. When the time comes, you will surrender them to me."
Give up his children, the future of his house? For all his personal ambition, he had an obligation to posterity.
"But--!"
His protest was quickly interrupted.
"Do you want power or not?" the voice snarled. "Decide!"
Cadmus hesitated for only a moment.
"Very well," he said, "you'll have what you want."
"And so shall you," the voice declared. Cadmus could feel the serpentine satisfaction in the voice's words. "Do your work in secret. You will know when the promised time is at hand. Until then..."
As the voice faded away, the shredded remains of the fallen men and their horses were drawn back together, made whole once more. They breathed like living men, but the empty look in their eyes hinted at something else. Cadmus could not help being both amazed and frightened. Had he gone too far for the sake of his ambition?

* * *

Countess Flavia Sapphira sat in silent contemplation. For all their wealth, no noble is truly free. No pleasure is denied to them, but none ever seem truly happy. Like the serf working in the fields, an aristocrat is a slave to his birth.
Because her father wanted to have a foothold in the Army, he married her off to a cavalry officer. Though he was also of noble birth and a fellow patrician, her husband was a boorish man and she loathed him utterly. However, her feelings had nothing to do with her duty.
For some reason, she remembered the time she instructed a girl being raised from the gentry about the duty of a noble. To say it was one thing, to live it was another.
She gently caressed her stomach, now overlarge in the latter stages of pregnancy.
It was common for noblewomen to defer the task of parenting to nurses, but Flavia did not want this for herself. She wanted a special bond with her child, something she did not see in noble families. Love, was it? Perhaps all she wanted was love, both to have and to give. It was a pleasing notion, if nothing else.
Her thoughts came to an abrupt halt when an arm snaked across her chest and a cold hand clutched her forehead. A burglar? The hand pulled her head back and she felt a sharp pain at her throat.
Not a burglar, but an assassin.
She began to feel faint and was on the verge of passing out when her attacker laid her on the floor, too gently for any common assassin. The dark figure knelt beside her and held out his arm. Running a fingernail over his wrist, blood slowly dripped down, splashing on her lips.
"Drink," the figure said. "Drink or you will die."
What sick heathen rite was this? For a killer to mix blood with his victim... She did not know what he meant by it, but she would have no part in it. She closed her mouth as tightly as she could, resisting the icy droplets dripping down on her.
"The children," the figure said. "Do you want to kill the children? Drink or they die as well."
Children? More than one offspring slept in her womb? By drinking the blood, she could save them, save herself? Though she feared for her soul, she did not want to die, nor did she want to lose the little lives within her. Could she really sacrifice them in her stubborn resistance? What of the love she sought through them? Could she sacrifice that as well?
Perdition seemed to await her at either juncture, but she made her choice. She opened her mouth to accept the blood of her attacker. He brought his wrist down to her lips and she drank deeply from his wound.
She felt something like a mix of icewater and hard liquor flow through her body, chilling and invigorating her all at the same time. Her attacker pulled his arm away and that was when the pain came. It was something more intense than she ever thought possible. She tried to scream, but could barely manage a strained moan. Her attacker moved back to her side and held her hand. She gripped with all her fading might.
"You are changing," he said. "It will pass. You must be strong or you will lose yourself. Focus on who you are for the children's sake as well as your own."
Focus on who she was... She was Flavia Sapphira, daughter of Marcus Flavius Corinthius Sapphirus. She was wedded to Sextus Cadmus Adrianus Martialis and bore two of his children within her. Her favorite flower was the white lily. Her favorite song was the ballad of Corinth's founding.
She went over ever minuscule detail she could think of as wave after wave of pain swept over her. She was reaching her limit when the most fundamental truth revealed itself. All her life, she felt alone in the world and thanks to the children within her, that was finally going to change.
She knew who she was and would not let go of that. She would not surrender to this pain. She would endure it. For her own sake. For her children's sake. She was Flavia Sapphira and she would never let go of who she was.
It was at that moment the pain subsided. She was overcome by a rush of sensation that was as if she had just woken up from a long slumber. She could smell a hundred new scents. She could hear the cough of a peasant nearly a mile away. She could feel every fiber of her dress against her skin. She saw subtle vibrations in objects she thought inanimate. She could sense every contour of the infants growing inside her and the two hearts beating in tune with her own. A whole new world had opened up to her. It was all so much.
Her attacker, no, her savior helped her up and rested her in her chair. The darkness could no longer hide anything from her. She looked at his noble, chiseled features. He was like a sculpture left by the ancients. He rested his hands on her shoulders and looked directly into her eyes.
"You are now a vampire," he said. "I will tell you what you need to survive. You may never again be exposed to the light of the sun, for it will surely kill you. Water and silver will cause you pain, so avoid them.
"You must drink the blood of the living to survive. Man or beast, it is your choice. Whether you kill them or not after you drink is your choice as well, but remember that our kind is feared by mortals and they will hunt you if your true nature is discovered. You are stronger and faster than any human, so you have nothing to fear save carelessness on your part.
"Your children will be dhampir. They will not have the full depth of your powers or your weaknesses. Nevertheless, treat them as if they were full-blooded to be safe. There is much more to being a vampire than I have told you, but I cannot stay. I wish I did not have to bring you into the darkness, but even the immortals are not free."
The vampire's body dissolved into mist and disappeared completely. Though Flavia strained her newly heightened senses, she could find no trace of him.
Vampire, dhampir, these words were strange to her. However, she recalled the myth of the Mormo who served Hecate the goddess of witchcraft. Some called them the dead who walked and said they fed on the blood of the living. Was that what she had become?
Still struggling to absorb all the vampire's words and the new reality that came with her transformation, she looked at herself in a nearby mirror. She was a pale woman to begin with, but now she had the pallor of a corpse. She opened her mouth to expose the canines lengthened and sharpened ever so slightly.
Then she felt it, a thirst like nothing she had ever experience before. She rose from her chair. It was time to feed. She was eating for three, after all.