A Reason to Live: A Shadowdance Variation
    DECEMBER 1902

Dakanova looked at the battered and bleeding girl lying
unconscious on the tatami mat at her feet. “I defied the Daughters only twice in my centuries of existence,” she
said. “Both times involved you, Adriana.”
    Illyana held a serving tray carrying a bowl of warm
water, a hand towel and a knife. She set the tray down on the wood
floor next to Adriana, then sat beside it with her feet underneath
her. Illyana soaked the towel in the water then rung it out so that
it was damp but not soaked. She then returned her attention to her
    Adriana Dupré was in her early twenties, about seven
years younger than Illyana. At least, that was how they appeared.
Both women were actually much older.
    Adriana’s dark brown hair was matted with blood, but
otherwise retained its curled luster. Though her body and clothing
were ravaged with cuts and bruises, she looked angelic at rest.
This was how Illyana chose to remember the girl: a peaceful, lovely
nightingale — not the merciless vampire assassin she had
    The vampire Illyana had created.
    Illyana pressed the damp towel to Adriana’s face,
wiping away the blood and revealing her pale skin underneath.
Adriana had a nearly symmetrical round face, which tapered to a
delicate curve at her chin. Bruises formed from several blows to
that beautiful face. Illyana cleaned the blood from the slit on
Adriana’s thin lips.
    Setting the towel back on the tray, Illyana picked up
the knife. She paused to gaze at Adriana. Shaking off her empathy
for the girl, Illyana dug the knife’s blade into the palm of her
free hand. She squeezed her lacerated hand into a fist. Blood
seeped through her fingers. Holding her bleeding hand above
Adriana’s mouth, Illyana let her blood drip onto the unconscious
girl’s lips.
    One drop. Two.
    Adriana’s lip quivered, as if sensing the blood. Her
lips parted; blood dropped into her mouth onto her tongue, which
extended like a thing slowly coming to life.
    Suddenly, Adriana sat up. She grabbed the wrist of
Illyana’s bleeding hand, drawing it toward her. Illyana barely had
time to open her fingers as Adriana forced the hand to her mouth,
sucking at the bloody wound. Illyana wrapped her other arm around
Adriana’s shoulders, pulling the girl into her bosom and cradling
her head as she fed.
    Illyana savored the opportunity to nurture her
maternal instinct.
    A few moments later, Illyana looked down at Adriana.
She no longer fed from the wound, merely held Illyana’s arm while
resting against her. Illyana gently stroked the girl’s hair with
her free hand, consoling her like a child.
    Adriana abruptly grabbed Illyana’s hand. Illyana
grimaced in pain from Adriana’s grip. The younger girl pushed away
from Illyana and turned to face her. The older woman saw a haunted
look in Adriana’s cold gray eyes.
    “What happened to ‘if you go, you go alone?’” Adriana
asked in a voice as cold as her eyes.
    Illyana stared at the girl for a moment, then turned
away. Grabbing the towel from the tray, she wiped the blood from
her wounded palm. “You’re welcome,” she said, a bit more
caustically than intended.
    She put the towel back on the tray with the bowl and
knife, then picked up the tray. Standing, Illyana walked the five
strides required to cross to the front of the room. A short counter
and a bucket sat to the right of the sliding door. Illyana knelt in
front of the counter, placing the objects on her tray upon it. She
felt Adriana’s eyes on her but wouldn’t give the girl the
satisfaction of a glance.
    “You have to decide if you are with me in this or if
you are not,” Adriana said.
    Illyana busied herself with emptying the bowl into
the bucket, then using the towel to wipe the inside of the
    Adriana would not be ignored. “I need to know if I
can rely on you or—”
    “There are so many better ways to spend your
immortality, Adriana,” Illyana said. She squeezed the towel over

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