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It came from within, that gravely screech of warning or invitation. Whatever caused it was hidden away in the depths of the cave where light curled away and the air tasted of decay. The villagers told stories of a beast covered in hair, larger than three huts, and with teeth that ripped through flesh like water. When asked why they stayed, they replied, “it only attacks the guilty. We’re honest people, making honest livings. We have nothing to fear.”

Their village rested in the middle of two mountain ranges that dipped low enough for a pocket of life to resume. It was difficult to get to and possibly even more difficult to travel out of with their items for sale, but they managed one way or another. They were good people. Housing was offered to weary travelers, food was provided for those with or without ways to pay, stories were shared freely.

Layla almost felt bad for believing them to be a village of liars. She may have been nothing more than a fledgling vampire, but she was not a newborn baby. To live where and how they did, required something deeper than optimism, hospitality, and luck. There were no sacrificial rituals, festivals, or feasts for neither the beast or a God which made her wonder more about how they as a people could flourish.

Before her change, she believed in witchcraft, natural magic, and spirits. Karma, good and evil, and guardians existed for her. It was her sire that opened her eyes to the other side of the supernatural. Creatures that drained man of their blood were real and so were demons. As she traveled deeper into the tunnels of the cave, careful of her footing, she steeled herself for what she could find. If the villagers were right, she’d be facing a massive demon who could easily kill her. If what she learned from her sire was right, then it was no demon but her death would and could be just as swift.

A rush of hot air snuffed out the light she had been carrying. It stunk, stinging her eyes and nose. It was the last thing she remembered before both senses dulled to near nothingness. Her hearing was no better. Though more acute, the sudden loss of two necessary senses in the ink black darkness made her panic. All she could make out was the deafening sound of her breathing and beating heart.

What felt like a thick tree hit her in the middle of her back, sending her flying to a far tunnel wall. The mix of dirt and fragmented rock pressed into her skin. The force of the impact knocked the air out of her but restarted her senses.

“You not villager.” The beast roared out in confused anger, its voice a combination of growls and airy snarls.

“Neither are you,” she countered.

Layla stood slowly as not to cause whatever it was to charge her. The thing was too far for her to make out in the darkness she was slowly acclimatizing to.  She knew it was big. Nothing small could pack so much strength.

“Not human, not villager, not welcome.”

There were distinct pauses between each phrase. Either it had limited contact with people or had no need to communicate. She wasn’t sure which of yet. It was supernatural though and that made it exactly what she needed. It could know something about her brother or her sire. Both disappeared into the night mysteriously. Nobody knew anything

The beast shifted in its corner of veiled darkness. It must be thinking, she thought. That gave her time. She just had to use it wisely.

“The villagers promised me safe passage.” A lie but she needed the beast to believe her long enough to help her, if it could. “Have you heard of a Thalion?”

It shifted again and again and again then again. It’s pacing! Of course. The creature, though lacking in advanced speech, was capable of thinking.

“No Thalion.” The beast stopped its pacing after telling its hope deflating verdict. It took so long to answer that she felt there was a possibility her brother was closer than she thought. The no reminded her of how clueless she was.

Sighing, she moved on to her next question. “What of a Merkel?”

Again silence settled between them. There were no sounds of pacing or huffs from the beast’s corner. Was it possible he knew something? She tried asking a second time. She phrased it in a simpler way and got the same silence.

“Not of world.” The beast finally growled out. “Not allowed.”

Layla’s feet moved of their own accord. So he was alive. “Where? Where is Merkel?”

The rumble of a growl stopped her from getting any closer. “No more,” it snarled, “you go. Villagers pay price.”

“What price?” She pressed in attempt to bide more time. “What are you?”

Instead of a growl or snarled answer, the beast emitted a chilling howl. Time was up.

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