by SilverWolf

Chris Larabee moaned softly as Vin Tanner gently bathed his sweat-covered brow with the red bandanna given to the tracker as a gift for his birthday. A fever was building in his brother and Vin felt as helpless as ever in his life. His brother was dying.

"You won’t win this time!" Vin cursed angrily into the candle-lit room. "Do you hear me?" he shouted at the demon only visible to him alone. "He’s mine, not yours."

An eerie silenced filled the tiny room that Nathan Jackson had set up his healing practice in. But even Nathan’s skills, the life force that flowed through his veins were not enough to save the shattered remnants of Larabee’s soul.

Still tired from the night before Chris Larabee rubbed the sleep from his eyes and ran his hand over the rough stubble that shadowed his chiseled face. He’d opted to return to his shack rather than spend another night in town. Whether it was an inner voice calling him back home or the need to spend the night in his own company he was not sure.

The journey back to the shack was met with a great deal of resistance from his mount as if it sensed an underlying danger, an unease that foreboded of ill tidings.

"C’mon," Larabee urged his reluctant steed and kneed it once more in the withers, drawing from the horse an angry whinny of defiance. "If I didn’t know better I’d swear that you were taking lessons from Peso."

Finally home, Larabee set his horse free of the saddle and bridle and watched the uncharacteristic behaviour of the animal. It reared on its hind legs, madly pawing in the air with its front. Its ears pinned back and eyes widened in fury the horse whinnied as Chris had never heard it before. The animal’s pained cries cut like a savage wind through Larabee’s taught body.

Instinctively Larabee’s hand snaked down towards where his gun lay in its oil-blackened holster. Something was wrong and he knew it. He stood for a moment and listened. Nothing.

Not even a chirp of a cricket – nature was never quiet, unless it too sensed a danger that threatened it.

He cautiously entered the single-roomed homestead, gun drawn and ready. Before his eyes could adjust to the murky interior a sickly sweet smell of honeysuckle assaulted his senses. A cloud of amber curled around his legs and moved around his torso before filling the interior of his home. As quickly as it had filled the room the amber cloud vanquished leaving the room pitch black.

"Who’s there?" He called, not recognizing the sound of his own voice as it went up a notch. "Vin if this is one of your pranks so help me I’ll…"

"You’ll what?" A soft feminine voice replied a hint of a hiss followed sending a shiver down Larabee’s spine.

"Who are you and what do you want?" Chris asked feeling on the sideboard for a match. Groping his hand along the carved wooden mantle he stopped and held his breath when he encountered something cool moving over his hand. He was shrunken visibly, his face a lean pallor of white. "I’m not going to ask a third time," he uttered into the darkness.

A voice spoke from the darkness echoing in Chris’s ear. "My name is Vladia and my search is now over." She took the single velvet red rose tied with a piece of silver ribbon and placed it in Chris’s opened palm.

Chris turned to where the voice had come from and could neither see nor feel anything. "What search?" he questioned. He backed slowly away from the mantle trying to make better use of the tiny fragment of light in the room. His hand shifted and came into contact with something thorny.

"You, my prince." The voice replied. Now it seemed to be coming from outside.

In desperation, Chris ran to the porch shocked to find what had been daylight only moments ago was now dark. He began to question himself on how much time had elapsed. Had he fallen and hit his head, that would explain the loss of time, the disoriented feeling that enveloped him. But what of the smell that had changed from honeysuckle to roses?

Some thirty feet away he caught a glimpse of something near the corral. He heard the panicked cries of his horse and listened as its hoofs slammed into the boards breaking them and gaining freedom. What he saw next made his blood run cold. "No," he stammered in disbelief his voice little more than a whisper.

Dancing over a prone body before him he caught site of a woman with flowing black hair, and a black lace gown that hugged her body. Chris watched in horror as Vladia shifted her form down what he now recognized as Vin’s body and threw her head back baring her ivory fangs as white as the light from the moon that slowly rose from beyond the horizon.

Vladia sunk her teeth into the side of Vin’s neck, withdrawing them, blood still dripping. She levitated herself in the air and moved towards her prey, her need for drinking slaked. Wiping the excess blood away from her mouth she looked up at Chris and smiled, her lips still lined red with Vin’s blood. As she smiled her eyes changed colour from hazel to red, her voice also altered from being delicate to husky as she prepared to savor her prize.

"Stop!" His voice cracked like a whip as he spoke. He saw the dirt street rush up to meet him and thought that he heard Vin call out to him just as the dirt made impact with the side of his face. He felt hands hold him and a voice call out to him. "Vin," he uttered, his breath hard and fast.

"So he’s going to be all right?" Vin asked not shifting his gaze from Larabee’s sleeping form.

"He must have a harder head than we thought," he added as he idly scratched at the small dressing on the side of his neck.

"At least one of you has," Nathan smiled pleased with his patient’s progress. He turned to face Vin and slapped his hand away from the dressing. "Leave that alone and stop fussing with it. Call me when he wakes up, I’ll be downstairs if you need me. The fever’s gone now, all he needs now is rest."

"Sure, Nate … and Nate, thanks."

"So I dreamt all of that? It never really happened?" Chris asked reading the face of each man in the room.

"A part of the concussion you suffered." Nathan offered retelling the tale of how Vin had found him lying beside the broken wall of the corral. "Reckon a couple of them fruit bats must have spooked your horse some. When Vin found you lying out there he said that you looked like you’d seen a ghost or something."

Chris took in a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. "Ghosts? What do you take me for, Tanner? Next you’ll be telling me I was seeing Vampires." Chris laughed nervously. "Go on, get outta here and let a man get some rest."

"Whatever you say, cowboy," Vin smiled, and cocked his head to the left, his top lip curled up revealing what appeared to be a fang. "Everything okay?" he asked when he saw Chris blanch.

"Yeah, I’m fine," Chris shuddered all of a sudden feeling a little cold. As Vin left to join the others Chris pulled the blanket up to see at the end of the bed a velvet red rose tied with a silver ribbon.

…The End.. for now
(to be continued in Standing Stones)

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