Sebastian had failed to mention the past lack of success for females. I had to wonder just how widespread this misogynistic view was in this place. “You do know it’s not 1735, don’t you?”
“I’m just stating a fact.”
“No, you’re blurting out a prejudiced opinion.”
He shook his head. “Even if you were a guy, I’d be telling you to go home right now. For one thing, going by the fact that your skin-tone isn’t very pale, I’d say you’re only a few years old and that’s just not enough experience as a vampire for you to have a chance at landing a spot in the legion. Plus, no Sventé vampire has ever had any success with the tryouts.”
Sebastian had failed to mention that as well. A man of few words, apparently. “So you’re prejudiced against women, young vampires, and against another breed of vampire. I bet you’re a delight to have around.”
“Take my advice; don’t put yourself through the embarrassment of going to the tryout, just go home.”
Before I could yell at him for being a sexist sod, he had shrugged past me and disappeared through the patio doors. A little shocked, I slowly returned inside just as Sebastian was coming to summon me.
I considered telling him to stuff it, that it wasn’t worth it. But I knew I could handle myself and my gift well. It was too tempting to attend the tryout just to irritate the bigot Pagori. “Ready.”
I marched behind Sebastian down the corridor again until we reached another set of patio doors, much more extravagant than the last set. We then walked along a narrow cobbled path that zigzagged throughout the well-maintained garden en-route to an outbuilding which, I soon realised, was actually an enclosed arena. Inside, the ground resembled a large horse paddock; a sandy floor with the letters A – D representing North, East, South and West.
Also inside was a line of blokes. About fifteen in all.
“Sam, you need to join the line,” said Sebastian. “I’ll be observing from there.” He indicated with his hand to what looked like a glass VIP spectators’ box. “Good luck.”
And then Sebastian was gone, and I was alone. Alone because each and every one of the blokes looked at me like I was a leper when I joined the line. There were titters and snorts and whispers and gasps of amusement. I ignored it all and stood still, calming my irritated self and trying to anticipate what the test may be. Probably duelling, I decided.
The only advice that Sebastian had given me was to wear something that would promote flexibility; hence why I was dressed in my black sweatpants, a white t-shirt with a white sports bra underneath, and my pump-slash-trainers. I’d tied my long dark hair back in a high ponytail to keep it from falling around my face.
While I tried to get my head in the right place, another four blokes entered. They joined in on the ‘laugh at the girl’ crap. All in all now there were twenty of us. And I was the smallest. And the only female there. And the only Sventé there. Oh joy. Five were Kejas, the rest were Pagoris.
After approximately a further ten minutes three blokes strolled in, all carrying an air of authority and power, and everyone immediately went silent. The interviewers, I guessed.
The first was a Keja, extremely tall and bald with dark skin that had paled slightly due to the vampirism. He was all elegance and composure. The second was a well-built Pagori with a studious gaze and tousled auburn hair. At total variance to the first bloke, he was casually dressed in jeans and a ‘Life Sucks Then You Become a Vamp’ t-shirt. The third bloke was also a Pagori...and the sexist sod from earlier. He spotted me and smirked evilly. Ah crap. If the final decision came down to him I was definitely going back home.
But I refused to be intimidated or made to feel unsure of myself so I straightened my posture and arched a sardonic brow at him. He didn’t like that, he looked away, sniggering.
Folding his arms, he began pacing in front of the line of potential recruits as he spoke in an authoritative, clear voice, “Alright, everyone, listen up. I’m Commander Jared Michaels. Beside me are Commander Will Norton” – he gestured to the casually dressed Pagori who nodded wearing a half-smile – “and Commander Lou Sherman.” The Keja bloke also nodded.
Jared the Bigot continued, “As has already been explained to you, our Grand High Master wishes to replace his squad of ten that was recently annihilated. I will be commanding that squad.” He looked hard at me with those words as he passed. It turned out that he was, I’ll begrudgingly admit, just as appealing when dressed as when semi-naked. He was made even more alluring by that knee-length black, Matrix-style leather jacket he was wearing. Why couldn’t he be ugly? Then maybe need wouldn’t be tugging at me. Now that his hair was dry I could see that it was a lovely shade of chestnut. I’d love to rag every strand of it out.
“There have been four other tryouts before this one,” he told us, “and I now have three spaces left to fill. Hopefully I will feel that three of you meet the criteria for the squad.” He halted in front of me as his gaze flicked over each vampire in the line except for me. “You’ve all been selected for one reason or another. Maybe it’s your strength, maybe it’s your fighting skills, maybe it’s your gift. But if you can’t control your bloodlust then all of that means nothing to me.”
He signalled at someone sat above the spectators’ box and then suddenly gas began pouring out of hoses that were protruding from the roof. No, not gas. Worse. Various scents of blood now circulated around us, shooting up my nostrils and making my head swirl. And now, even though I usually didn’t have an overpowering bloodlust, I was incredibly thirsty.
“In any kind of battle, blood will be spilled,” said Jared. “This is what it will feel like to be on a battlefield, varying blood scents will be swirling around you. It is important that you can still be focused and alert and controlled, and that you can resist your bloodlust.”
I didn’t glance along the line of blokes but I could feel the nervousness and anxiety among them; feelings that amplified as Jared brought over a human. I didn’t even see where he came from. He had thin lines of blood slowly dripping down from a bite mark on his neck and heading toward his bare chest.
“You,” called Jared, signalling to one of the blokes in the line. He ushered him over and then had him stand in front of the human. It was apparent that the Pagori bloke was mesmerized by the sight, but he did nothing other than tremble a little. After about thirty seconds Jared nodded at him to move away. The bloke exhaled heavily as he went. Jared then selected another bloke, then another, and another.
I, unsurprisingly, was left till last.
By the time Jared called me forward to stand before the human the blood was dripping down his legs. A year ago I would have been as mesmerised as some of the others had been. I might even have stepped toward the human for a quick taste just like two of the other blokes had. Needless to say they were now on their way home. But with Victor as your Sire, life was gory. You got used to it or you went insane.
Jared didn’t look pleased by how I stood still; not trembling, not swallowing hard, not squeezing my eyes closed, not trying to hold my breath like some of the other blokes had. A mischievous smirk surfaced on his face as he used his forefinger to collect a little from one of the ribbons of blood trailing down the human. Jared then tried teasing my nostrils; wafting his finger right under my nose. The teasing didn’t work, which didn’t please him. He brought the finger toward my lips, hoping to tempt me to at least try to lick it off. But I didn’t. Even though my body was curious and thirsty, I gave no reaction to Jared’s teasing. Instead, I held his gorgeous hazel eyes with a defiant stare. At last he dropped his hand, sighing loudly.
“The next part of the tryout is going to test you physically,” he announced to us as I returned to the line. He signalled with his hand for us to all follow behind him. He led us outside and over to a small forest which was made up of trees that were varying shades of green and looked beautifully exotic. Scents of wildlife immediately hit me. I wondered if the vampires here ever hunted the animals. I’d never tried them myself.
“Hey...you really think you can pass this?” asked a bloke who was now walking alongside me. He said it as though he believed I was mentally challenged. Apparently this Pagori found my presence here just as ridiculous as what Jared did which was a shame really because he was actually a good looking bloke and I didn’t want to think of him as a wanker. His mousey hair had been shaven to stubble, and the style suited him really well, giving him quite an intense look. His blue eyes were shining in amusement as they appraised my slender figure that didn’t even have a muscle to pull. His smile was cheeky but warm.
“Don’t tell me you feel threatened by a woman.”
“Hey I believe in equality and all that, but there’s no way you’ll pass this.”