The healer pulls out a pouch filled with small bottles and a dozen thumb-sized stones with blue carvings. Rune stones containing anti-venom, small samples of blood or root poison just in case the bite takes hold too soon. She works, hands steady holding the stones as they warm and begin to glow. Anti-venom is a silky substance, it doesn’t quite flow like blood. Under the rune’s magic, it quickens and seeks out the two puncture wounds.

It’s a delicate process preventing vampirism. The thick black venom starts to stream out. The little girl stirs only slightly, a faint moan as her head rocks gently to one side. Her eyelids flutter but do not open. The brown-haired woman in the corner, whimpers at the sight of her young daughter.

The situation could have been easily avoided had the healer been called for sooner. The disease of the Night Children, Vampires as the commonfolk called them, had plagued the dark times for centuries. Leagues of healers are trained each year in castles gifted by monarchs to control the spread.

But despite their training, healers cannot save a human once the blood fever takes hold.

No one had called for the healer at just past sunset when there had been a scream.

It had come from an alleyway off the twilight markets. A crowd had gathered on Crescent Street. Hushed whispering followed by fearful gasping. It was difficult to know what had transpired at first, but the arrival of the Night Watch enforcement gave it away. If the victim wasn’t dead, they would turn. And that was worse. Far worse. The markets were shut down. The wind music cut short and all the moon lanterns were blown out.

‘Not my little girl,’ A woman was muttering as she rocked on her knees. The bony, immobile hand of her daughter between her own. A messy streak of liquid black trailed down her daughter’s limp arm. The girl had left her mother’s sight for only a few seconds to give away some of her flowers. Now they were scattered, shredded petals, stems and thorns.

‘Ma’am, we need to finish her now.’ One of the watchmen stood only a step behind them. Respectful and cautious. The woman laid her head against her daughter’s chest, please, let there be a beat still.

The woman let the girl’s arm drop.

The watchmen reached out, crystal stake in hand–a finger twitched.

‘Wait, stop,’ The woman said. Dead bodies don’t twitch like that. ‘I want the healer. Now.’

Why they had not brought the girl straight to the Mage Castle to save time was beyond the healer. She’d been able to smell the victim before she saw her. The scent of rotting flesh and dried blood. It infiltrated her long-beaked mask made of the same crystal as the stake at her side. If the victim was already detectable by her scent…they should have staked her.

The healer gently brushes some stray hairs from the young girl’s face. Her hand catches a bloody petal in the strands of golden blonde. The healer lightly rubs it between her fingers and feels her long crystal beak mask grow heavy. She examines the wrist, angling to better see the slowing trickle of black venom. It was slowing too soon.

The healer looks to the mother in the corner. When she had arrived at the markets the older woman had had the young girl clutched tightly to her body, a limp mess of wild hair stained with dark splatters and dried-up trails of blood. The mother had looked up, a heavy plea in her eyes. Save her, save her, save her.

She hadn’t loosened her hold when the healer first looked at the two needle-thin puncture wounds on the wrist of the girl’s right arm.

‘I only looked away for a moment, there’s still time. I’ve seen it done before. I know you can save her.’ The woman hadn’t looked at her, continuing to rub gentle circles into the bleeding wrist. The healer felt the heat burn behind her mask. She didn’t like hesitation. She had done it before, it had been done to her before.

‘It may be too late,’ She had told the mother. ‘If the venom has spread too much it will be better if they stake her–,’ The healer paused and watched her continue to trace circles on the wrist. Pulses are strong in the wrist so surely…the mother knew it was too late.

‘Is there somewhere we can take her?’ The healer had asked.

They found a nearby storage room filled with bags of grain and shiny bottles. Creaky wooden beams lined the high ceiling forming long shadows in the candlelight.

The mother went to stand in the far corner of the room as the Watchmen had laid the girl onto a workbench. Bits of rosemary and melted wax stained the surface but it failed to block out the thickening scent of rotting blood.

The healer dismissed the Watchmen.

The last trickles of black ooze out of the small punctures in the girl’s wrist. When it comes to a stop, the healer huffs a gentle sigh. This is the fourth child this week. The first three had died, two from the transformation failing and the third had needed to be staked by the Night Watch. The healer attended to all of them though, it was her duty but she was growing tired all the same, and there was only so much death she could witness. Especially when all the targets were children, all attacked close to dusk followed by a delay in communication. There were never any parents nearby either, except for now. The healer doesn’t hide her observation of the girl’s mother in the corner this time.

‘Usually, sires are faster at taking their prey. This one,’ The healer waves her hand towards the girl’s still body. ‘Was not. Saving her is beyond even my capabilities I’m afraid.’

Silence follows. The healer continues,

‘You said you only looked away for a moment and yet the Watchmen told me they were ready to stake her on sight.’

More silence.

‘Tell me, what mother lets her child bleed out on the street, a slow and painful death, refuses to let someone end her suffering and then pleads for her to be saved?’ The healer raises her head, the long sharp beak of her crystal mask on full display.

‘You are awfully quiet for someone who screamed so loud half the village came to your aid.’ The healer stands from the workbench and begins to circle the room. ‘But, it wasn’t you that screamed, was it?’ The silence in the room thickens. ‘You were happily waiting in the privacy of the alleyway, weren’t you? Until the venom reached her heart, and she became just like you.’

The corner had been a good choice for the mother. The light did not quite reach it. Making it dark enough to conceal the colour of her eyes.


Like the blood dripping over the sides of the workbench. Rimmed in black same as the venom mixing with the blood. The healer continues to slowly approaches her.

‘The only thing I do not understand is why you would allow yourself to be so…sloppy. Stealing another person’s child for your own is risky at best–’

The vampire woman strikes.

Hands reaching forward to grasp the healer but the crystal beak mask turns towards her, a distance forced between them. Vampires are killed by the crystal of stakes and burn at the proximity of it.

The mother is no different.

‘She is my child. Mine!’ The vampire seethes.

‘But you did not raise nor birth her yourself.’

‘I have given her a new life. Birthed her into the night!’

‘Why take a child that is not truly yours?’ The healer inquires. She pulls out the stake from the inside of her robes. Her gloved hand gripping the warm crystal, preparing to strike.

‘Because they killed my Alyson! We were happy and they plunged their wretched stakes into her heart!’ The vampire woman’s hair waves in front of her face. Dark brown curls so unlike the golden blonde strands of the dead girl on the table.

‘So you suppose it’s only fair you take another child for your own? A responsible mother would have been faster to sire. Now the girl is dead. Her real mother probably crying somewhere for her missing child.’  The healer matches her pace to that of the vampires. They prowl around the workbench with the dead girl’s body.

‘You could have saved her.’ The vampire says. ‘I know you healer. Clarisse of the Castle. I’ve heard the whispers of how all your patients are saved from the graveyard.’ The healer keeps her eyes on the vampire. She ignores the stirring she can sense from the girl on the table; the pumping blood in her veins. 

‘Not everyone can be saved.’ The healer rushes around the table. Arm moving to strike but the vampire moves faster, dodging, avoiding the healer’s mask, the vampire rips the stake from her. She throws it across the room, it clatters against the floor and slides too far out of reach.

The vampire reaches towards the mask and pulls, the ties keeping it in place give. Cool air rushes against her burning skin, raw from the heat of the crystal against her deathly pale skin. The vampire starts to laugh.

‘Oh how mighty you are healer. I cannot have a child to replace the one stolen from me and yet you,’ The vampire points at her, at the healing welts on her face. ‘You are allowed to exist behind that mask, lying to everyone.’

The healer waits patiently, not for the vampire to finish but for the girl on the table to rise, for the stirring blood in her limp body to come alive again. She cannot see it but the healer can feel when the blood reacts to her call. The air changes, feverish and ready.

The vampire does not feel it, too enthralled by her new prey. Nor does she suspect when the once-dead girl-now-alive stalks behind her and picks up the discarded crystal mask with a beak sharp as any stake. The healer waits and doesn’t move her gaze from the vampire as the girl comes up behind her attacker and strikes.

The girl’s strike isn’t clean but it’s enough for the healer to spin the vampire and push her to the ground arms pinned to her sides. The vampire struggles, but with two sets of arms holding her down she cannot rise.

The girl pulls the mask out from the vampire’s back and strikes a second time.

True to the heart.

The vampire mother stills.

The girl holds a torn flower in her hand.

It had been in her pocket when she woke to the sound of hissing and taunting. The vampire with brown hair that had offered to buy some flowers was there, her sharp teeth exposed. The girl looks down at the puncture wounds already healed.

‘The scar is permanent but you won’t suffer another like it.’ The healer was by the fire burning what remains of her attacker were left. The girl looked at the flower again, to the thorn on the side and just to be sure, pricked her finger on it. Sure enough, the wound closed cleanly like it had never been. Like the burns from the mask had faded.

‘Why did you save me? How did you know she wasn’t really–,’ The healer cut her off.

‘You already know.’ The girl did. The burns on the healers face, the voice she had heard, wake up, wake up, sounded exactly like the healer did now. The healer had saved her, with her own venom when her attacker’s venom failed to take hold.

The healer throws the last bit of the mother into the fire. She could not hide it now. The burns her translucent skin endures under the mask, the red of her eyes, and the incisors that poke out when she begins to talk

‘The woman wanted me to save you. I’m a healer, so I did.’ The healer moves to the door. ‘It’s time for us to go hunting, can’t have your blood fever catching you on your first night as a vampire.’

The healer puts the mask back on, ignoring the burns that begin to form.

Annika Barton is enthralled by storytelling and language. She is most likely to be found in her room reading about a fantasy world when not playing netball or streaming her latest television obsession. She hopes to eventually publish these fantasy worlds when not debating where to correctly put the comma.