Trembling in the warm light of the setting sun, Mira stared into the icy darkness of the cave, her white shift blowing slightly in the breeze. Her mind raced endlessly, trying to remind her of why she chose this, attempting to dull the fear in the pit of her stomach, and reminding her of the importance of what she was about to do.
Average in all ways, Mira had average brown hair, average brown eyes, average weight, average height, average intelligence, and average bravery. She was just average. So it was no surprise, even with her education and knowledge of the decision being her own, that she had been dreading this moment since she watched the first of her sisters commit to the path. Mira couldn't believe it was finally her turn, as the last of this generation.
Stop thinking! I'm only making it worse, she told herself. I'm sure it won't be nearly as bad as I'm imagining. Perhaps going first and dying young would have been better than living a longer life in fearful anticipation of this moment. To think, if the last girl had lived only a month or so longer, I would have been too old and one of the newest generations would be standing here now. I would become a teacher and spend the rest of a long, normal life, in the sunshine.
Her heart raced, as she peered into each shadow. He could be here already, watching, waiting. I would never know it. Mira pictured him as some kind of vicious, desperate creature. The druids had kept him around for centuries, hiding him in the recesses of the mountain caverns. Mira often contemplated what type of man could live like that. She could hear the lessons running through her head. She considered what may have been left out of the teaching. Mira had even helped to teach the new generation of girls about him.
Stop thinking so hard, Mira told herself again. Her hands fidgeted at her sides. Feet shuffled. I'm only making it worse. I'm sure my imagination is more frightening than this will actually be. Somehow that's little reassurance, her brain argued. Mira took several deep breaths. The voice of the high priestess, Lilith, droned out over the audience. Mira had long since stopped listening to the words, but she almost felt ever syllable, like grains of sand raining on her skin as they sifted through the hourglass she felt trapped in.
"Rillan ap Tiernay," Lilith intoned over the crowd, "was created to protect and serve the Circle. Our guardian. Each generation a group of girls is chosen as companions in darkness. This is the price of his loyalty."
Mira didn't hear Lilith's speech. Not that it mattered. She knew the speech by heart. It was the same for each of the girls who entered the vampire's cave. Mira's mind was more concerned with the parts of the story that were left out of the flowery farewell.
Each girl given to the vampire was there to feed him until she died or asked him to kill her. Then she was replaced by another. Once she was sent into the caves, she would not emerge again until her death. Rillan left only when there was an assignment from the druids, by his own choice. Every girl who entered the cave believed that maybe she would be different. Maybe I won't want to die. Most survived several months. The longest lived ten years or so. The girl before Mira lasted three weeks.
When Mira collected that girl's body from the stone altar just outside the cave entrance, it had been a sobering experience. The other times that Mira performed the duty, there was a feeling of detachment. She rarely even looked at the girls' faces, let alone the rest of their bodies'. She had never been next in line before.
Mira remembered staring at the pasty white skin pulled tight over skeletal features for a long time. She had examined the numerous vicious bite marks that riddled the shoulders and neck of the dead girl. Mira had bathed the body for burial and found the bruises on the girl's arms showing how she was held down. Mira found the blood along the inside of her thighs. Her body itself was shriveled, drained of blood and starved of food. Mira had no idea what exactly the girl suffered over the three weeks that she was inside the cave. She tried to tell herself that anything imagined would be worse than what actually had happened, but was having little success in reassuring herself. He is a good man. Our guardian. The other girls simply weren't strong enough, she told herself.