Over the next day, I was kept away. Cyrus had strict orders to keep me in Kurda’s room, not for a hostage or a playmate – ouch, ‘mate’ – but to keep me from seeing what would happen. Kurda stated that he had gone through the trouble of making my name clear – which it was to begin with – and he didn’t want to be the reason if I should damn myself by reacting to his ‘arrest’.
Yes, the vampaneze would ‘arrest’ him as they handed over the Stone to the rest of the vampaneze. The small group he had now were waiting outside. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I tried to slip out from the room several times, even broke Cyrus’ fingers at one point, but I couldn’t get far. Between being exhausted and in grief, I couldn’t fight much more.
It would take just that day for the group of vampaneze to flit over here. I wondered why the remaining Prince hadn’t showed up yet. I also wondered how the other vampires were getting on outside of this prison-sanctuary I was in. Had they found Arra’s body? How was Crepsley taking it? Was Seba alive? What was going through Gavner’s head? Had there been any more fights to break out despite Prince Kurda’s orders to remain still?
What was going on?
For a moment, I was glad to be locked away. I knew that if I saw Kurda’s ‘arrest’, I might not be able to restrain myself – say nothing about his…execution to come. I also knew that I might not be able to handle the guilt if I saw the others. I was a day late. One god damn motherfucking day late.
And look what happened.
It was my fault.
I wasn’t sure how I would be able to handle that knowledge. I would worry about it when all had…settled. Did the others know? Should I just end my life here and now if my friends knew, if my mentor knew, if my mate was going to die anyway?
‘Protect Larten from himself’.
Arra’s words came back and pulled me away from my suicidal ideals. I had failed the entire clan once and look what happened…I could not, would not, fail again. Even if it was just to one person, to honor one person’s last words…to help my mentor…my master…I wouldn’t fail. I resolved myself to this much at least.
These topics, however, were quickly interrupted by my next planned escape. It had to be night again, an entire day later. I just felt it in my tired bones. When I made to burst through Kurda’s door, I was momentarily caught off guard.
I looked around before slowly walking further through the halls. When nothing or no one pounced me, I took it as a good, though confusing, sign. Where was everyone? I couldn’t hear much. I tried to retrace my steps to where the dining hall would be. I thought of the Princes Hall but…too dangerous, too harsh. Vampaneze and bad memories were there.
I nearly collapsed in relief when I heard noise from the dining hall. I walked over quickly, keenly aware of how weak I felt from a lack of human blood over the past few days. Kurda had denied me that over the past day, knowing that with it, I might just escape and interfere with what he had prepared himself to deal with.
I got to the doors, seeing no purple flesh. Were they inside? I could hear talking…was it in anger or in cheering? Curiosity took over and pushed me until I opened the doors. The scent of bat broth hit me and my stomach growled. For a moment, just a moment, I felt like everything was fine, that the past few days were just a nightmare. I felt like everything was…
“Sam?!” I heard a surprised voice call out, followed by another echoing.
I looked to my left and nearly yelped, all but tackled by a familiar body. “Gavner!” I gasped, clinging to him as he hugged me tight. “Gavner, oh gods, you’re here!” I was trembling. I felt the dam that I had been building, hiding behind until all the ‘unpleasant business’ carried out, start to crack.
Gavner spoke, “You’re alive! We didn’t know if that bastard,” I flinched, “had killed you or not! I wanted to try and find you but…”
The second voice that had called out to me spoke, “We were ordered by the Prince to remain in this hall, our rooms, or the Hall of Sports.”
“Seba?!” I looked up over Gavner’s shoulder and flung myself to him, hugging him tightly. He was alive…he had survived! I hadn’t realized how worried I was about this grandfatherly figure until now. He jumped but lightly rest his hand on my back. “You’re alright, thank the gods!”
“What…happened to you…Sam?”
“Harkat!” I hugged him next, shaking worse now. I didn’t answer him though. I noticed one person missing. “Where’s Mr. Crepsley? What happened to…?”
The trio looked saddened. Seba spoke first. “After he caught Arra’s blood on your hands, he persisted to find out what happened to her.” Pause. “He demanded to locate her body in the tunnels…as her killer taunted him with the news.”
“The prick,” Gavner carried on, referencing Kurda, “refused to let him go into the tunnels – scared he’d slip away, I bet.”
“So then where is he?” I stood on unsure legs. I suspected Crepsley didn’t take the restriction lightly. My heart ached for the man.
“Kurda ordered…for him to be…in the jail cells…for his own safety…and to obey his…word.” Harkat spoke between gasps of air.
I felt my breath be stolen away. Jail? Locked away, knowing that your once-mate was probably dead? I dug my nails into the palm of my hand. No…Crepsley, poor… “Where is he?” I whispered, staring at their feet as they stood around me. “Kurda. Where is he?” I was suddenly very aware that the talk in the hall was from a happy reason, a celebration of sorts. I didn’t feel at all easy about this.
Gavner looked like he was about to speak, but Seba placed a hand on his shoulder to silence him. The elder vampire broke the news to me. “He and the vampaneze have left the mountain.”
The dam that I had felt to start crack moments ago stopped now. Frozen. I tensed and felt all feeling leave my body. Left? So then…Kurda was delivering the Stone…and also…walking to his execution. That was why the vampires were cheering, if only in a bittersweet way. Kurda was leaving…
Kurda was going to die.
Gavner was no doubt happy about this. The others would be as well. I couldn’t blame them. I understood. Seba probably felt similar in sentiment, but he had the tact of old age and experience to know that…I might not be entirely one side or the other. On some level, or perhaps just from recalling that I was Kurda’s mate despite what had happened, Seba knew to break the news to me carefully.
I had more questions, but none mattered right now. I felt myself sway, felt Gavner grab my arm. I couldn’t breathe. This room, this large hall despite the number of bodies in it, was suffocating. I pulled away, nearly fell back from my action.
I turned and ran.
I had to leave the Mountain. I had to see Kurda one last time. We hadn’t talked before he left, not about what really mattered. I had to tell him…I had to say it…I had to…to…
Nobody was in my way to stop me. The guards had either been killed or ordered to stay away, probably even guarding Crepsley. Seba and the others were behind me, left. I’m not sure if they did it on purpose or were too stunned to move – or maybe following Kurda’s orders as Prince. Prince on Death Row, but Prince nonetheless.
I was beaten, exhausted, worn out…but fuck it all, I kept running. Even when the cold air smacked me in the face, I kept going. The snow was freezing and nearly to my knees. The incline was hell. I toppled over and fell several times, rolling once even. I was sure I got snagged by a bush or hit a rock once or twice. I was too cold and numb to be aware of any cuts or bruises though.
All I could think about, for better or for worse, was the traitor, the Prince, the vampire who used his mind and judged himself by what felt right in his heart: Kurda. I didn’t even know if I was going the right direction. I just kept running blindly. I prayed to whatever god there was that I might find him before…
Figures. Purple. There were people up ahead. All of them had purple skin. Before the group knelt one pale skinned man with long blond hair. There was no hair tie or even shirt on the man kneeling. His hair, that hair I had loved to look at and toy with, rest wildly around him. His clothes, I noticed, were ripped away. A vampaneze was speaking to him, perhaps proclaiming his…his…
“STOP!” I screamed, nearly twisting my ankle as I stepped on a rock wrong. I fell and slid down the way a bit before pushing myself up. Covered in snow and shaking for more reason than one, I shouted, “Stop! Don’t kill him! Please, wait!”
Eyes were on me, some knowing but most bewildered. Then there was one pair that I knew intimately. I stopped just a few feet away, my stance wavering from it all. I looked at the man in the snow. He stared at me with shock, pain, and…and a bit of joy, I thought. Bittersweet joy. “Samantha,” he spoke with a hoarse voice, “what are you doing here? I told you to keep away.”
“Who is this woman?” One of the vampaneze sneered.
“I’m Samantha Ivy,” I panted, trying to catch my breath, “and I am a half-vampire.”
“Why are you here?” Another vampaneze looked at me closely.
My eyes never left Kuda’s blue ones. We spoke at the same time by accident.
“I’m his mate.”
“She’s my mate.”
At that moment, I knew I was glad to have run down here. For once, I wasn’t late. Though Kurda knelt, torn and disgraced, ready to accept his death and the pain of never seeing Paradise…I would be able to see him one last time. I would be able to tell him something that conveyed my thoughts on his actions, his betrayal.
How I thought of him for leaving me in this fucking mess that he created single-handedly.
“Please,” I swallowed thickly, my throat on fire from the cold air, “please…allow me to have one last minute with him.” I didn’t look away from him. I was pleading with the vampaneze, feeling no shame in this.
“Glalda…one last favor?” He asked one of them quietly. I didn’t see who he was talking to specifically.
“One minute.” The leader agreed before turning away. They gave us the illusion of privacy. I was grateful. Truthfully, I was in no condition to run and I knew Kurda had already resigned himself to his fate.
I walked on shaky legs before collapsing before him. We stared at each other less than a foot apart. We could see our breaths in the air. His hands rest at his side in the snow. I reached up and brushed back his hair behind his ear. His skin was cold. Hell, I was cold.
“Samantha…” he whispered.
One minute. One minute and then an eternity of never seeing him again. How cruel and unfair time was. I offered a weak smile. I didn’t want his last memory of me to be a tearful wreck. “Kurda.” I wanted to scream. Somehow I resisted.
He took my hand in his. I cursed the numbness of the cold for not letting me experience this feeling, to keep me from memorizing every line in his palm. I leaned forward, our knees pressed together. I rest my forehead against his. My other hand cupped his cheek and he returned the action.
I swallowed. I grinned almost bitterly before feeling the sharp sting in my eyes. Tears. Tears frozen in this cold wind. “I don’t want to see you die…even the chance, however minor or vast, of your death makes me feel ill…and lonely.”
I repeated what he had told me that day in the Hall of Sports, about the Trials. The first real time I felt like we were…that we were…that there could be something between us. It was the truth. All at the same time, it also told him what I felt about his behavior, the mess he left me in.
He caught it. He understood. I knew this because of the tears that joined mine. He struggled to speak without letting the tears choke him up too much. “Samantha…you will never be alone.”
“Time is up.” The voice cut sharp into our moment. Panic entered my veins. No. No! I refused to let this happen! He couldn’t die! He couldn’t be killed no matter his actions! It was easy to agree to his death in theory, but in practice, I wouldn’t let it happen! I’d take a few vampaneze out with me if need be, I would die alongside him if I had to, to keep him alive!
But Kurda and I always thought similarly. He knew what was going through my mind. He squeezed my hand and leaned forward, kissing me one last time. With his free hand, he gestured something to the side. When we pulled away and my illusion of peace lingered, I realized what he had done.
He had signaled Cyrus, who I hadn’t noticed standing to the side all this time, to take me away. I fought Cyrus at first but with a sharp hit to the back of my head, I became nothing more than a manageable rag doll in Cyrus’ grip. My last image as I shouted Kurda’s name was the man himself.
With his long blond hair wild and dirty, his shirtless body bruised and worn, he smiled gently up at me.
As if to say…
It’s alright. Thank you. I love you.
There was never any utterance or sign of Good-bye…
I fell in and out of consciousness for the next two days. The run in the snow, it seemed, coupled with my recent hardship down a certain waterfall had wreaked havoc on my body. I recalled seeing Harkat, Seba and Gavner hover over me a few times when I opened my eyes. It lasted just for a moment before I fell back to the darkness. I recalled drinking something, blood no doubt, and possibly bat broth throughout that time.
There was one time when I woke, the fire low, and swore I saw Kurda standing in the shadows. When I blinked, the small bubble of hope that had formed within me popped. It was not Kurda, but Crepsley. I gasped out something, perhaps his name, perhaps a plea or an apology…and fell asleep once more.
For the first ten minutes of my actual waking, I stared at the fireplace in silence. I hadn’t looked around or even wondered if someone was in the room with me. I simply turned in my coffin and glanced at the flames, my mind blank. It was blissful, to not think of anything. If only I could exist like that, like the fire…just exist…
“You are awake.” It was Seba’s calm voice that pulled me from my state. “We have been worried. Do you feel well enough to sit up?”
I looked over at him in the shadows from the fireplace, loathing every second of it. On some level, I knew that things would go downhill from here. I would be rejoining reality after so much time away. “I think.” I winced at how sore my throat was.
In Seba’s hand was a cup although I wasn’t sure what it was filled with. I sat up slowly, wincing from the lack of use from my muscles. I took the cup from the older vampire and sipped, relieved to taste water. When I drained the cup, I looked up at Seba. “Say it.” I murmured “Tell me what I have missed since I disappeared.” Dejected. Somber. Numb. I was ready to have my world shattered and smashed to dust. I felt distant, cold, numb…
Seba sighed as he sat on a chair nearby. His expression was somber, his eyes dark, and his posture…old. Fragile. I swallowed thickly. He really did look his age in that second, I thought. His voice was neutral though laced with sorrow. “We could not locate you for nearly a week. Kurda’s investiture went proceeded as planned. That night when the other three Princes,” he winced, thinking of his friends, “drank to his health…they died. We were all in the dining hall celebrating the new Prince. Arra left. She came back with the news of trouble. Then she disappeared into the tunnels with Glalda.” That name sounded familiar to me. “Some fighting broke out when we spotted the vampaneze. Before it could go too far…Kurda ordered us all in the Hall of Princes.
“There he explained himself. There were many outbursts, but…to kill a Prince is…not possible. As a Prince himself, he knew he was exempt. He also knew and told us that he would die by the vampaneze hand for his betrayl.” Seba’s face hardened. “Kurda explained why he did it. He told us of the Lord of the Vampaneze. Then you arrived…thank the vampire gods you are still here, Sam.” He offered a soft smile. “When you left, Kurda restricted the areas we could go…you know the rest.
“Since Kurda’s…leave,” Seba said carefully, “Prince Vancha has arrived. We have spent the past two days recovering the bodies and burning them so their souls may leave to Paradise.”
“And…and Larten?” I whispered my mentor’s name. My throat burned.
Seba understood. He sighed. “He is taking Arra’s death hard. He has been in to visit you twice, though Harkat has rarely left your side. He is not here right now only because I have forced him to eat. He will return shortly.”
I wanted to ask more. Did Crepsley blame me? Did the clan? I was Kurda’s mate. Did this last remaining Prince want me dead? What were the news of the vampaneze and the Stone – had anyone else died suddenly from it? I suspected not or Seba would have mentioned it. Where was Gavner? What…
But nothing left my lips.
I merely nodded and looked away. Kurda was dead. So many were dead. The Lord of the Vampaneze was not blooded yet, but he was out there. There was a weak truce between the clans. Crepsley had lost his ex-mate, no doubt a woman he still admired and…and loved. There was much to do soon, first of which required grieving…but no tears left my eyes.
I just wanted to…to exist for a while longer. Just be alive.
I would feel the guilt smack me soon. I would deal with Arra’s last words and my promise soon. I would handle the loss and betrayal of my mate soon. I would recover along with the clan soon. I would help find this Lord and kill him…soon.
Soon…soon, soon, soon…soon…fucking soon!
A god damn day late!!
I must have started to tremble, to breathe heavily, for Seba touched my shoulder in concern. I jumped a bit and looked up, startled. When I realized what had happened, I shook my head. “I wish to rest.” I whispered. I didn’t want Seba’s words. I didn’t want him to inquire or try to comfort me on anything. I didn’t deserve it. He had lost his friends because of Kurda, because of me…I didn’t deserve anyone’s attention, anyone’s comfort or care or words or…
I didn’t deserve to be alive right now.
But I was.
And I wanted to get the most out of it, simply by existing.
Seba nodded and slowly left, glancing back twice as if to speak. When I was alone, I expected to cry. Alas, nothing happened. I simply sat there in my coffin, staring at the flames once more. I heard the door open and heard Harkat’s breathing. I said nothing. He smartly said nothing either.
And so it went for another day.
Trying to be just like the flames in the fireplace.
It was the second day after I woke – two weeks after I went missing initially – that Crepsley visited me. Gavner and the others had visited the day I fully woke. Crepsley…had just made it today. I was partly dreading this visit.
When he came, however, I was surprised with myself. It was that same cold, distant feeling I had before when Seba told me what had happened. It was like…I wasn’t really there. I wasn’t me. I was watching this play out from someone else. Like this was a story and the main character wasn’t me.
“You are doing better.” Crepsley’s voice was ragged, worn.
I nodded. “I…” should be dead, am to blame, shouldn’t be here, don’t deserve anything, am sorry for everything, am a huge disappointment, wish I had never been blooded, “…am sorry for your loss, Mr. Crepsley.”
He flinched. “Thank you…Mistress Ivy.” He paused for a moment. “And I…I am sorry for yours.” The words were forced through gritted teeth. I flinched as though he had struck me and looked away. He caught on and cleared his throat. His voice was softer this time. “When you were brought into the Hall…were you with Arra…in her last moment?”
I looked up and instantly regretted it. His eyes were so pained, so honest and vulnerable. I expected to cry myself, for this to finally break the dam I had built since I first arrived. Nothing. Nothing happened. I swallowed thickly instead. “I was.”
I knew what he wanted to know. Still, I hated to hear him ask it. “What did she say…if anything?”
I closed my eyes. I couldn’t stand to see his. I ached to reach over and hug him, I wanted so bad to comfort him…but I didn’t deserve his touch. He didn’t need to be soiled by mine either. So I resisted by digging my nails into my palms, uncaring if I cut them open.
Crepsley deserved to hear her last words at the very least. It would not absolve me from my sins…but it might help, just a little. A smidge. A wisp. So I spoke while keeping my eyes shut, trembling. I couldn’t stand to see his reaction. “‘Protect the Prince. Protect the Clan. Protect Larten…from himself.’”
Protect…protect so many…I had failed one already, failed another shortly afterwards…and the third? Arra was a fool to ask such from me. I was a fool to agree to it. Protect so much. I wasn’t worthy to do such. I wasn’t…
I heard a sob. My eyes snapped open and I looked over to see Crepsley doubled over, sobbing. I made to stand with the intent of hugging him, of touching him, of offering some sort of comfort…but then I felt a cold chill invade my bones despite the fireplace. It was my fault he was like this. It was my fault Arra had to utter her last words.
I did indeed stand and step out of my coffin, but I did not go towards Crepsley. Instead I walked by him and ran out. If I stayed a moment longer while he shed tears, tears, I would cave. I would hug him, I would apologize profusely, I would lose it. I would break.
I couldn’t. He didn’t need that from me. I wasn’t worthy to do such a thing.
I failed. I was a failure. I should have never been blooded. I ran through the tunnels, entering one of the smaller ones. I nearly fell twice. I didn’t stop until I reached outside. I left the warmth of the tunnels, of the mountain, and flung myself out into the snowy edge.
Cold. So cold. Freedom. Space.
I sat on the edge of the mountain, staring down. If I fell from here, would I die? Could I finally stop the voices in my head? Would my death make up for the countless ones, the people who were worth fifty of me that had died?
I sat on the edge and grew numb, both emotionally and physically. I wondered if I could freeze to death. I hoped it would be a pleasant way to go out. But did I deserve such a painless way? No. Yet I couldn’t force myself to jump.
So I remained there for hours. Snow built on top of me. The sun was out but was hiding behind the clouds. So be it, I thought and remained a statue. If I get sick or freeze or fall…so be it. At least then I could escape it all…
It was midnight.
My lips had to be blue by that point. I suspected I was nearly frostbitten. How much longer until my heart stopped working? I wasn’t sure if I could move my limbs. I was glad though, glad to have traveled though the tunnels in a way only I knew how to get through, thanks to…to Kurda’s maps.
I wondered if they had cleared his room. I’m sure they had, nearly a week later. I was sure everything went up in flames. I smirked. Flames sounded nice right now to my near frozen body. Just a bit longer and I was certain I’d become an ice statue.
A noise startled me from the tunnels edge.
I turned and stood, cursing inwardly at the pain from it all. Yet no matter how much it hurt to move, to stand, I remained numb. It was an odd feeling, but the pain from moving had faded away shortly after.
Who was here, who had found me?
A moment passed, then another. A figure stepped out of the tunnel, looked left, and then looked right to see me. It…it was Gavner. I tensed, unsure of what to do or even say. Although I had seen Gavner several times since I woke, I knew his feelings about Kurda. I didn’t blame him. I understood.
We locked eyes. I fought to keep my composure. To weep so openly over a traitor…it was shameful, to me, to Crepsley…but that wasn’t why I held myself back. To hell with the opinion of others, that was a lesson I kept close from Kurda. It was because I knew that once I shed the first tear, accepted Kurda’s death…I would break. And truthfully, I was scared that I might not be able to put myself back together.
But then Gavner frowned and a sort of sympathy came over his face. He held his arms open in a silent statement. I lost it. I took his permission and dove into his hold, wrapped instantly by his broad arms. Tears blinded me and I let out a keen howl of agony, as if I were being ripped apart by a bear. I screamed and sobbed wretchedly as I clung to Gavner, holding to him as my last hope. If I let go, if I let go I might be lost forever…if he let go of me…
He only held tighter.
Gavner hugged me back so tight that I might snap in two. I cherished it. I wanted it. I needed the physical strain to keep from focusing on the emotional one, to stop from breaking from the emotional strain. My screams of remorse and agony echoed off the mountain. I must have shouted Kurda’s name because I heard it shouted back to me in the wind.
The shouts died out and were exchanged instead for cries. This was the first real grief, the first real, true loss of a love I had felt. I knew there would be more in my long life, but I couldn’t fathom any future past this moment, this man that no doubt was dead by now.
My legs must have given out for when I opened my eyes again, Gavner and I were kneeling in the snow. My throat was on fire from the crying and shouting, my head pulsing, my eyes aching from all the tears. It was only as my sobbing died down that I realized that Gavner had rest his chin on my head. He was trembling, not as fierce as me, but I knew without looking that he was affected by it all as well – or maybe it was just my mournful howls that made him tear up. Perhaps it was the raw emotion behind it that made him sympathize, brought back his own tragedies, or made him mourn for me mourning for Kurda.
I’m not sure how long we sat there. Gavner held me tight as I held him, though my grip had slackened as I calmed, drained and exhausted. Snow had started to land and build on us. We must have been out there for hours. I didn’t let go though and neither did he, even when we had fallen silent. I think he understood that I needed a friend, needed him…no judgement, no scowls, no sneers…just friend.
I grimaced when I tried to swallow, my throat protesting. I looked up at him, too tired to be startled by the dark rimmed eyes that watched me in return. It didn’t need to be said, the question of if I felt better for the moment or the confirmation that, yes, I felt better…for this moment alone.
He did, however, speak to ask something a very important question. “Ale?”
I nodded and tried to speak, wincing from the pain. I couldn’t speak, so I mouthed the words ‘no hall, no group’. He understood. Together we stood and as we walked inside, my frame still trembling, he kept his arm around me. Maybe he knew that if he let go, I would fall to pieces and never be put back together.
But I knew as we walked into the tunnels that the ‘soon’ I had thought of so long ago…’soon’ was ‘now’.
And it was going to be hell to experience…but I wouldn’t face it alone.