I stared in forced reverence at the hooded figure in front of me. Not once had I seen his face, not in twelve centuries. He had always been hidden, an enigma I was sure I’d never solve. Still, even though I’d never seen him, I knew who he was. He was my maker – the one who’d given me my immortality, the one who’d saddled me with an irrepressible urge to hunt and kill, the one who’d torn me away from the life I knew. Yes, I had never seen his face, but I knew who he was. Every fiber of my being literally reinforced my submission in his presence.
I hated that, the submission. I was a Viking. The very idea of it was an anathema to me either way. Still, in the darkness, against the cold floor and of the castle we lived in, I could do nothing but speak the traitorous words.
“Is there something you require, master?” I asked, repulsed by my own tongue. “You know I am ever in your service.”
I heard it then. It was his cold, cruel laugh, the one that seemed to suck all the emotion and life out of a room. He spoke, and his voice was as commanding as ever. “I know, Alexander. Service to me is inescapable, though you don’t seem to want the freedom anyway.”
What use was there to desire freedom? I would never have it. “I don’t seek it. Not anymore.”
He laughed again, moving closer to me. Even with our proximity, I still couldn’t make out the planes of his face. Close as we were, I felt cold. Chilled to my bones and unable to get any warmth.
“Of course you don’t seek it,” he said, and I felt as if he knew my resignation to the whole thing. “Now, child of mine, I need you to do something for me. Something I can entrust to you alone.”
“Anything, my sire.” I felt sick at the pride bubbling up inside me, but it was there nonetheless.
“I need you to find me a Pure One.”
No. Anything but that. Trying to find one was an exercise in futility and wastefulness. While it was rumored that the Pure Ones existed, none of them had ever been found. To even try was considered stupid, so why did the damning words still come out of my mouth?
“I won’t fail you, master,” I said, and I heard his laugh again. I knew I would fail this endeavor, and so did he. My words had sealed my own sentence of death.
I wanted to sink onto the cold stone floor and curse loudly at the gods for the fate they’d bestowed.
My own children stood in front of me, trying to stay detached but failing miserably, given my news. Both Anton and Sofia tried to keep their tears from falling, a clear attempt at making me proud of their strength. In that moment, I did draw from their reservoir of control, at least until I said my piece.
“I am proud of you both. Not once have I ever regretted turning you.”
Not a second passed before they were both kneeling at my feet, tears of blood marring their cheeks. “Master, please,” Sofia said, grasping my hands in between hers. “Perhaps we can reason with our grand-sire. Make him reassess his task. You know you’ll fail.”
I hardened my features. This display would not help my resolve one bit. “Sofia, enough. Have you so little faith in me? Have I ever failed at my tasks?”
This time, it was Anton who spoke. “A Pure One has never been found, master. We all know the humans are tainted, so there is no point. We will lose you. Don’t do that to us, we beg you.” He paused, looking up at me. With my keen vision, I saw my own blue eyes reflected in his green ones. “Sofia is right. Perhaps we can reason for your sake.”
I scoffed. “Reason? With my master? You talk as if I’ve taught you nothing about your grand-sire. Don’t reason for me.” I looked straight at Anton and Sofia, hoping they would understand the subtext of my command. Don’t try. He will kill you for the insolence. I accept my death. There is no reason for you to die with me.
“Master…” they said in unison, and I knew they understood. Even so, the whole situation was agonizingly painful.
Only the very gods I’d cursed could save me now. A Pure One had never been found, but for the life of me, I hoped that the fact would change. The alternative was just too awful to contemplate.
“Be strong,” I said again, and turned to walk away.
As I entered the Great Hall once more, my master still sat impassive on his throne, a monolith of constancy in an ephemeral world. I looked at him for about five seconds, but I didn’t need to ask him anything. I already knew he’d heard the entire exchange.
My hopes sank again like a battered longship in a storm.