Shop Mobile More Submit  Join Login
About Deviant Artist LilyFemale/United States Recent Activity
Deviant for 8 Years
Needs Core Membership
Statistics 235 Deviations 625 Comments 8,074 Pageviews

Newest Deviations



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.
Cyrus…wasn’t here.
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.
There were many rocks at the bottom. The fall was grand and the force in which my body met those rocks was fierce. The cracks I heard from several bones sounded louder in the water. I couldn’t breathe at first, the pain too much. Then darkness, nothing…
Was it death?
Several minutes passed. The sun was rising when I opened my eyes. No, I was alive. I wanted to look around but I was both too tired and too cold to do so. I lay on the banks of the river. How far was I from the waterfall? I couldn’t hear it…I had to be far. My foot was submerged in the water. How did I get here? Better yet, how did I survive the cold?
I tried to roll onto my back, but my wrist protested. Shit, I thought, what bones did I break? I couldn’t possibly forget that loud crack from the fall. When I tried again, I heard something shift nearby. I looked up, tense. Who was it? Was it a bear? A vampaneze?
It was…a wolf! Three, actually.
Ah, I realized, they must have pulled me out of the water. I nearly whimpered from the sudden warmth they provided when they laid around me. I pulled my foot from the water though I couldn’t feel my toes. I needed to get out of my wet clothes…I…
I passed out again.
When I woke again, it was almost dark. I was surprised to find that my clothes were just shy of damp. I carefully sat up and groaned. From first feel, it seemed that my shoulder was dislocated, my wrist and foot were broken, my other foot still numb, and my back protested greatly. I must have hit a rock, I thought, and wondered what the bruises around my back and stomach would look like.
But I was alive!
I had to get to Vampire Mountain…which I couldn’t see from this position. I had to…I couldn’t even stand. Could I crawl? With one hand…but I might freeze to death before then. Oh, the thought of dragging myself made my back ache. I must have struck my head too, everything was so fuzzy.
The wolves were back…warmth…rest.
I had no idea how many days passed before I was finally strong and able enough to move about. The wolves stayed with me the entire time though. I glanced at my stomach and saw the dark bruises had lightened. My foot was still cold, but I didn’t see any need to cut off a toe or anything like Gavner had done. My ankle had rested enough to be used on and off. It would swell easily though. My wrist was the same. My head didn’t hurt as much anymore.
At one point, I thought I heard Mr. Crepsley, Arra, and Kurda. I had tried to follow the voices, but by the time I did, they were gone. It reminded me though that I still had a job to do. If I were luckier than before, I would be able to make it in time. And, I realized with a start, following their voices had led me in sight of the Mountain.
With the help of my friends, we traveled. We had to stop many times given my feet, but we pressed on. By nightfall, we hid and rested. By morning, we finished the last stretch. I prayed to whatever god there might be that all was well – for now.
I slipped in through one of the tunnels. I had to guess where to go, my memory shot from before. I wondered where this one would lead me. I looked for familiar parts, but saw none. I’m not sure how long I was traveling through those damn tunnels, fighting off the panic and glimpses of claustrophobia. The more I roamed, the more I was sure I would be too late. My ankle was swollen, black, and blue…but I pressed on. Just a bit further…
I was worn out. From the journey, from the past few days, from the injuries, from the lack of proper blood…was this ever going to end? I had just taken a left when I heard a noise. It was a grunt. I tensed and carefully walked forward, focusing so much on the sound that I failed to notice the smell. It was faint.
The further I walked, the stronger the smell hit me.
I felt sick. I froze from the unexpected scent. It lasted a moment before I moved quicker than before, pain be damned. I ran forward with the sound of my own heart racing in my ears. Blood…it smelt familiar…who lost blood? Why hadn’t I heard anything until now? What…
I saw a body when I turned into a small section, a mini-cave of sorts. Before I even stepped forward, I recognized the scent. “Arra?!” I gasped out, forgetting that there might be enemies nearby still. I pushed myself from the would-be door frame and darted forward, falling onto my knees when I got close to the body. “Arra, can you hear me?!” I crawled forward, shuddering when I found myself in a pool of her blood. “Arra, please…what…”
The groan I heard earlier came from her. Where was the one who cut into her like this? I thought frantically as I studied the wound. If I had heard her be struck down minutes ago, didn’t that mean the person would still be here? Before I could look around, she grabbed my wrist.
I jumped and looked at her. “Am I…going to die?” The question made tears spring from my eyes. “Am I?!”
“I-I don’t…I don’t know! Maybe?” She was nearly split in half, how did this happen?! “Was it the vampaneze?” I trembled. “What’s happening? Arra? Arra, please, don’t…”
“Sam…it’s you.” She seemed to just recognize me after my questions. “You’ve…returned.” How long was I gone? I wish I could tell her the story, but I saw no point in it now. “Vampaneze…snuck in…how…”
I swallowed thickly. “I’ll go get help, where are th….”
“No.” Her grip became surprisingly tighter to keep me from standing. “Chaos…everyone is…either fighting or…dead.” She grimaced and cursed. “The Princes…everyone except Kurda…is dead.”
The room spun. Dead? The Princes, Mika, Paris, and Arrow…dead?! I was…too late? She must be mistaken. I looked down at her, unsure of what I was going to say, when our eyes met. I trembled. “Arra, I…” Tears choked me.
“Protect…the Prince. Protect…the clan.” Arra gave me a weak smile. “Protect…Larten…from himself.” Her grip slackened as she exhaled, a sigh of sorts.
I stared at her for another moment, waiting for her to inhale, waiting to hear more. She didn’t realize Kurda was responsible. Who did? Who didn’t? But I waited, hoped that she would say something. Anything. Blame me, ask me where I went, ask why I hadn’t stopped this, why my mate was the only Prince remaining…anything!
“Arra?!” I shouted, my throat burning. Had I thought all of that before or did I shout it all? “Arra, please…you…you can’t be…no!” I cried out, a few tears falling on her motionless body. Dead. She was dead. Gone.
I took a shakily breath. I needed to find someone, I needed to warn the others…I needed to try and save anyone else I could. “I’ll be back.” I swore in a whisper before forcing myself up. I winced when her hand fell to the floor. “I’ll be back…I swear…I’ll…I’ll bring…Larten.” I muttered. In a daze, I set off again. I had to be close to the main tunnels.
The Princes were dead…all except Kurda. That meant they would have to listen to him. Whatever he said would be law. So how did such fighting break out? It didn’t sound like Arra knew Kurda’s true colors. So how…?
I saw light ahead. The moment I exited the tunnel, I sighed in relief to see the space relatively free of blood. I had just taken one step when I felt a hand grab my collar! I turned to strike but was a second too late, seeing stars instead. I could feel my hands and feet being tied by another person. I was quickly gagged and blanched at the taste of the filthy cloth. When I was finally able to see again, I realized my captor was a young vampire. He was Kurda’s assistant…Cyrus, was it?
He looked at his partner, another young vampire I never learned the name of, and lifted me once they muttered something about my appearance. Ah, I thought, my ankle. Small miracles, I thought. With that, they headed towards what I assumed to be was the Hall of Princes…Prince.
No, I realized with a shiver of cold hope. There is another Prince. Vancha! He stayed away from the Mountain just in case something like this happened! What did that mean though? Would he be able to make it here in time? What…
The scent of blood assaulted my nose once more, interrupting any thoughts I had. I looked up from being slung over Cyrus’ shoulder. I saw bodies, both purple and not. I closed my eyes, unwilling to see how many more of my friends had been struck down. For the most part, however, it was silent. Where were the others?
We entered the Hall of Princes – without any guard checks. Kurda had to be in here. My heart fluttered despite it all.
Try as I may, I couldn’t help but feel my heart pound at the idea of seeing Kurda again. I wanted to…I needed to. I was relieved and excited to. Our last meeting had ended…in a manner that was pained. Despite my hope, despite what was happening, I still wanted to see him. He was my mate, after all…he had my heart.
A thought struck me harder than anything I had suffered recently. Was…was this all a set up as well? Did Kurda use me? Or did I own his heart as well? Was it all a lie? I felt numb. Thankfully I was being carried or I would have collapsed there.
So deep in horrific worries was I that I failed to notice something. A noise caught my attention…it sounded like my name…it sounded like Gavner. I opened my eyes and looked to my left, spotting the vampire on one of the many benches. He was bloody and bruised, he looked like he was missing a finger…but he was alive!
That was when I realized there were many, many eyes on me. Vampires and vampaneze. The vampaneze stood against the walls. The vampires were seated reluctantly on the benches. There was a smaller amount than the first time I had been here during the council meeting, but they were there. Why? Why were they all seated? And where was…
I heard movement down the way. I looked and nearly cried in relief. Mr. Crepsley had stood, his eyes wide on me. Thank the gods, I thought, going weak once more. He was safe. He was alive.
How long was I gone? He must be relieved to see me alive even if I were injured. I must have worried him. And…I realized with horror as I caught sight of the blood on my bound hands. Arra’s blood! He must have caught her scent on me…he…oh gods. He didn’t know. I closed my eyes to will away any tears. I needed to be strong but damn it all, this was just one hit after another.
I’d rather be flung down the waterfall than deal with this.
Cyrus stopped at the steps. He gave a short bow, awkward with my body over his shoulders. Then I heard him. “Take her to my room.” It was soft, too soft to recognize the emotions behind it, but it was unmistaken.
When Cyrus nodded and turned, about to leave, I looked up. Prince Kurda Smahlt stood before his chair. Our eyes met and I wanted to fight, to scream, to kick and free myself somehow. I wasn’t sure why. I didn’t…I didn’t…
I couldn’t do anything.
I watched him shrink in the distance as we left the Hall. I didn’t even try to see who else was alive and injured. In fact, it wasn’t until we left the Hall did I realize the Stone of Blood wasn’t in its normal spot.
Within minutes, Cyrus brought me and left me in Kurda’s room. He stood outside, no doubt guarding. The scent of paper, ink, and dirt assaulted my nose. I didn’t dare look towards the fireplace where our ‘bed’ would be.
A thousand questions echoed in my mind. I was too numb, too deep in shock to try and get out of my restraints. The Princes were dead. Arra was dead. Vampaneze and several vampires were dead. Gavner was missing a limb and Crepsley looked fairly injured himself. Kurda…
I shut my eyes tight.
Wake up from this nightmare…wake up…this can’t be real…this isn’t right…I’m not supposed to be here…
A noise off to the side alerted me that I wasn’t alone. I looked up and saw a flash of blond. “Samantha!” If I had felt any resentment or fury at Kurda, it left me at his voice. His voice sounded like a musical chime, the relief and tearful joy evident in just one word. It pushed me further into my disbelief of reality.
He knelt before me and took away the gag. He started to work on my ropes while I spoke, “Kurda! What’s happened?”
Instead of answering right away, Kurda tossed aside the last bit of rope from my knee and tsked. “Your foot…what happened to you? You survived the fall!” He didn’t hug or hold me, but he grasped my shoulders as if to assure himself that I was real.
I stared at him for a moment, only now faintly aware of the pain in my ankle. I would feel it much worse later, I knew. “I hit some rocks…my ankle is broken, I think my wrist might be too.” My bruises had, for the most part, lightened and were only sore now. I shook my head, the most recent event sinking in. “Why…why did you have Cyrus tie me up? Why did you have him bring me to the hall, before everyone, just to send me here?” Although I hated to admit it, the fire was starting to warm me – and the shock was slowly leaving. I wasn’t looking forward to that.
Kurda’s blue eyes met mine, dim though he offered a soft smile. “So no one would think you were working with me, as my partner and my mate. This way…when I’m gone, you’ll remain unscathed for loving me.”
“Gone?” I stared at him. “You’re leaving? After this mess you’ve made, you’re leaving us? Me?” This jolted me a bit more.
He smile became sad. “Yes…the vampaneze are even harder on traitors than the vampires are. Still, it is a sacrifice I am willing to make if we can bring peace to the two groups. If we can prevent a war…”
I recalled the tunnel, a memory that felt like ages ago. “The Lord of the Vampaneze…but he can still be blooded. We need to find him, kill him, or it’ll all be for naught.”
“Yes,” he admitted slowly, “and that is your task once I’m gone.”
I shook my head, my heart racing. “No, what are you talking about? Me? I can’t…”
“I’ve explained my actions to the remaining vampires. As Prince, they are bound to obey my orders. As a result, I remain in one piece. You, Larten, and no doubt a few others will find this person and ensure my sacrifice was not in vain.”
A moment passed between us. The shock had worn off completely now. Everything I had seen came back to me. “Kurda…Arra Sails is dead.” He looked genuinely upset. “And I saw corpses on the way here.” The next words tasted like ash in my mouth. “The Princes are dead. Aren’t they?” He closed his eyes though he didn’t remove his hands from my shoulders. “What happened?”
Kurda sighed heavily and for a second, he looked so…old. “It was not an easy choice to make, but it was necessary. After my investiture, the three Princes drank to my health. I poisoned their drinks. When they passed onto Paradise, I opened the Hall of Princes, brought in the vampaneze, and killed the guards.” He paused, unable to meet my gaze. “It was supposed to be just those causalities. The vampaneze were supposed to take the Stone and leave while the others were busy drinking, celebrating. You’ve been gone nearly a week, Samantha. Gavner and Seba forced Larten to join them in celebrating. Arra…Arra left the Hall early. She saw the vampaneze. She blew the whistle and…”
I was trembling as I listened. It all sounded like a story, not a true recalling of events. “By the time I came back out and gave the order to stand down…there were bodies on the floor. I had everyone come into the Hall, those who were still alive, and explained it all. I noticed Arra wasn’t there, I had Cyrus try to find her. She was fighting Glalda when they disappeared.” Pause. “I am greatly saddened by the news of her death.” He sighed. “I had just finished explaining, after several outbursts, when you appeared.” He gave me a fragile grin.
“I arrived too late.” Oh, to voice the words…I knew this would eat me away for the rest of my life. I stared at my lap for a long minute. The Stone was gone. People were dead. No doubt the other remaining Prince was on his way, but it would take a few nights to arrive. We still had to find the Lord of the Vampaneze and kill him. The Stone, maybe, bought us a few years. Maybe. But…
“I don’t…I don’t understand.” I struggled to whisper. “You planned all of this.” I felt sick. “You…you knew even before we met. And you still accepted me when I asked you to be my mate. I don’t understand. If you knew…you were going to do all of this, you…why?”
I was disgusted with myself for such a question. I knew I should be angry, I should end Kurda’s life right here, I should hate his guts as I spill them on the floor. I knew that I should be repulsed by his behavior and shy away. And yet…
To accept the deaths – without seeing the bodies, at least – in a tale was easy enough. On some level, I understood his logic in this plan. He had betrayed the clan, not me…and that was easier to grasp than…well.
What I had trouble understanding was…us. There was no mystery as to why he betrayed the clan and murdered his own kind. I would not be haunted by the question of his authenticity in his actions and beliefs. He had been plain and blunt in everything he had just done.
But us? His feelings for me? His reason for encouraging and allowing me to fall this hard for him?
Those questions would haunt me well into even death unless I found out now. Those were the things I could not understand. Those were the things that, damn it all, I needed to be answered like I needed blood to live.
And just like the many times before of such a vulnerable, if not strange, position…Kurda understood. Our eyes met and mirrored in understanding and pain. So much fragile strength he showed in this topic. He looked ready to break if he or I said the wrong thing. He understood why I asked.
He let his hands fall to his lap, prepared for what would be a rightful rejection. He knew the difference between my current behavior and the behavior I should have exhibited to the news of so much death in this mountain. There was no self-delusions.
“When I heard of the Lord of the Vampaneze…I knew I had to make a sacrifice. I knew I had to give everything up for the sake of the clan, including myself. I was prepared to do this.” Pause. “But then we met and I realized you had similar views like I did. We thought in similar ways. And the way you would look at me…the way you would talk to me, smile at me...for once, at least for a little while, I wanted to be selfish. I wanted to be selfish in your touch, in your kisses, in how you thought of me…I couldn’t stand the idea of hurting you only to keep you from this pain you no doubt feel now when my plan came to light. I was weak and selfish…even if it were just for a few days…knowing I will never find Paradise for what I’ve done…I wanted to find just a sliver of it here, with you.”
Kurda became blurry in my vision. Tears sat in my eyes, refusing to fall but demanding to exist. It hit me there just now that it wasn’t going to be the same. Nothing was ever going to be the same. Arra’s death, the Princes’ deaths, the fighting, the Stone, the betrayl…Kurda…it all became too real.
Everything had changed.
But just for one last time, I leaned forward and wrapped my arms around this man. He wrapped his arms back around me, tight in relief to know I hadn’t turned away from him. And for a minute, we deluded ourselves into thinking that the world was just this, being in each other’s arms.
I was briefly disoriented when I first woke. I looked around, warm from more than just the source of the fire that burned softly. When I made to roll onto my back, I felt that second source of warmth against me. It was…moving. Slowly. Rhythmically.
I carefully shifted and pushed up on my arm. It was Kurda! He was…sleeping and…naked. I was naked. Blood filled my face as I recalled last night. Oh…I hope I didn’t wake anyone. I grinned at it all though. So we were mates. I smiled at this. We had slept together last night. The body of this man, my gods…
He looked peaceful, I thought as he slept. I carefully raised my hand and traced the three marks on his cheek. The vampaneze marks…usually meant to mark for death, but in Kurda’s case, a sign of trust. What an odd vampire.
I made to touch them again, fascinated, when his hand grabbed my wrist. I startled but didn’t react otherwise. When his blue eyes opened and found mine, I smiled. His grip slackened, showing he knew I wasn’t a threat. He offered a sheepish grin in return.
“Morning.” I whispered.
“Good morning.” He greeted with a smile. “Did you sleep well?” His thumb ran a pattern over my wrist.
“Great…I think you tired me out.” I couldn’t help but grin like an idiot just there. He seemed amused as well. I picked up a lock of his hair and toyed with it in response. “You?”
Kurda watched me bring his hair to my lips and, on some wild impulse, pretended it was my mustache. “Very well.” He chuckled before raising his head just enough to kiss me.
We stared at each other for a moment before I bowed my head, capturing his lips again. “Last day of the Festival…Sire.”
“Anxious to challenge Gavner and Seba, are we?” They were, after all, the two I had left on my list.
“A bit.” His gaze made me feel…safe and serene. It was too bad that vampires couldn’t have their pictures taken, I thought, to have something for when I…oh! My eyes widened as I recalled last night. “Actually, that reminds me! Mr. Crepsley has been offered the job of Quartermaster! If he took it, I’d be staying here…with you.” There was no fear that I might be perceived as clingy or needy. Though not perfect, there was an understanding between us. We were so similar to one another, to the way we thought. He understood why I was thrilled and did not misjudge it.
“That would be wonderful.” He agreed. His hand reached up and threaded his fingers through my hair. I leaned into the touch. Kurda sat up a bit more to kiss me again, this time slower and softer. When our eyes met this time, I could see the desire in his.
We didn’t get out of ‘bed’ for another hour.
When we finally did, we went to grab a quick breakfast. Lunch. Whatever. I tensed though as people glanced and stared. The fact that we were walking together wasn’t terribly surprising, but I think they were keenly aware of how our scents latched onto one another. More so, since I had slept in his bed and against him, his scent clung to me.
I wondered if it was worth dealing with a cold shower at the falls or not. Before I could decide, however, Gavner walked up. “There you are, I was looking all over for you since you weren’t in your room! I was…” he paused as he looked at me. I groaned inwardly. I wondered how Kurda was able to sit next to me calm as ever. Gavner smiled wide and slow. “Oooohhhh, so that’s where you were! Eh?!” He winked and nudged me hard with his elbow.
I smacked Gavner’s arm and hated myself for blushing in a telling manner. “Shut up!”
“Have you told Larten yet?”
I wondered if the bread I was holding was stale enough to actually do damage if I threw it at Gavner’s head. “He gave me his blessing to become Kurda’s mate.” This was news to the blond as well. Both men looked surprised. “Mr. Crepsley is my mentor and teacher, I thought it would be wise and best for everyone if they got over themselves. After all,” I purposely kept my eyes locked with Gavner, “we three will be spending a loooong time together in the Mountain.”
Gavner hooted and laughed. “Well then! Congratulations, Kurda!” He smacked his friend’s back.
Kurda offered a slightly shy smile. “Thank you, Gavner. And I am glad to hear of Larten’s approval. I know he doesn’t agree with me on a few topics, but on this…”
“Knowing how stubborn my assistant can be, I decided it was best for everyone if I did not put up a fight. When something makes her happy, I am happy.” Crepsley’s voice rang out suddenly.
I turned to see the orange haired man and smiled. “Hey! Glad to see you’ve learned in the past few years, hm?”
“It’s taken him centuries to learn that trick.” Gavner snickered.
Crepsley smirked but didn’t deny it. He stood at the table. “Have you two made the mating commitment official?”
Ah, that. I recalled something about that last night. “Not yet.” Kurda answered.
Gavner wore a shit-eating grin when he added, “They’ve been too ‘busy’.” I flung my bread at him which he blocked with ease.
Crepsley ignored this. “I would recommend doing this after today then, given the atmosphere. If it would please you,” his eyes were on me, “I will be one of the witnesses of your ceremony.”
My eyes widened. Him? Witness? I was surprised. I thought he had accepted this with a bit of reluctance, but to offer such a thing…I smiled. “I’d like that! But um…what usually happens at the ceremonies?”
“Didn’t explain much to her before you…” Gavner didn’t get too far to making a crude joke to Kurda. Halfway through, Kurda shoved his bread into Gavner’s mouth. I snickered.
“Before a Prince and two witnesses, we commit ourselves. We state what we will do and how long…then ask if the other accepts. It is more of a verbal contract than written, but the same procedure.” Kurda explained with a smile. Damn, I would never get tired of that smile.
I nodded. Interesting that it was verbal and not…oh. I glanced at Crepsley. I didn’t think many vampires could read or write given their ages and the times they grew up in. If they thought map making was pointless, she could imagine their views on reading and writing. “Then tomorrow it is.” I grinned.
“Have you decided on a set of time?” Gavner asked as he crossed his arms, having spat out the bread.
Kurda and I glanced at each other. Crepsley noticed. Before we could speak – we hadn’t, actually, since Kurda accepted my ‘for however long you want me’ – a challenge broke out nearby. “Take it to the Hall of Sports!” Someone called out.
Taking advantage of this, since now wasn’t the place to discuss time with Kurda, I stood from my seat. “Speaking of…Gavner!” He looked over at me. “I challenge you to a fight! Knives or knife?”
This swept Gavner’s attention away. “Knife sounds easy enough to beat you with. Come on!” Together, we darted out. I felt bad for leaving Kurda there with Crepsley, but I knew he could handle himself.
The fight ended in blood and laughs. I was sporting a few more cuts than Gavner – which he teased me about how Kurda should wrap them – but it was a good fight. As a last ditch effort, I made to jump onto the man but he caught on quick. As a result, he flung me across the room and won the challenge. After all, I couldn’t put up much of a fight with broken ribs.
He apologized profusely afterwards and helped me up, but I shook my head and forgave him – with one condition. I saw Seba briefly, not to challenge as I hoped, but for him to ensure that my ribs were just fractured and not risking damage internally. I couldn’t fight anymore for the rest of the day, not without risk of death, so I tried my best to hide from others.
That was harder than I thought originally since I smelt like Kurda and blood…and several people spun around thinking that Kurda himself had fought again. Nope. Just me. The condition I set with Gavner was to act as my distractor. He was quite good at it, either talking enough to let me slip away or fighting the vampire who caught my scent.
When Kurda saw me later, he looked torn between praising and chastising me. When I told him of my plan to duck for the rest of the Festival, he relaxed a bit. “Don’t worry,” I smirked, “I’m no more eager to meet Death than you are.”
Crepsley teased me once later that night by saying he was contemplating challenging me again. I threatened to set his coffin at the Cirque on fire if I lived through said challenge. Gavner, however, wasn’t so easily swayed into behaving himself. For the rest of the night, he kept teasing both Kurda and I.
There were many ‘jokes’, but the one he favored was ‘apologizing’ for harming Kurda’s ‘princess’. I threatened him several ways from Tuesday, but the more ale he drank, the less he cared of my threats. Kurda put up with it with a grin, tolerating. I knew that in the vampire eyes, ‘princess’ implied…well, more of a damsel in distress. Not vampire-fit at all. Somehow though…when I looked at the blond, I felt…like I didn’t mind so much. Like with how Kurda used my full name and made me feel feminine, this also…felt similar.
I noticed as the Festival came to a close, Crepsley’s gaze was…distant. I wanted to ask but I suspected he might not tell me. I made a note to ask Seba later for some hints. I knew he gave me his blessing, but…I wasn’t sure.
The mating commitment ceremony took place the next day at midday. I had asked Crepsley if I was supposed to wear anything – I was thinking like a dress, because human and female and wedding – and I caught a smirk on his face. Crepsley told me no, to simply wear my normal clothes. Vampires.
Paris, Crepsley, and Seba stood with us. One Prince, two witnesses, and two mates. We stood across from each other. Kurda looked serious even though he wore a soft grin. He spoke first. “Samantha, I ask that you be my mate…for as long as you’ll have me.” By the shifting in the others stance, I knew right away that this was uncommon. “I vow to be faithful, to fight in your name, and do all that I can to honor you. I will die for you if required. I will hold no claim to you when you wish to end the commitment. Do you accept my terms?”
“I do.” I grinned myself and repeated it back to him. “Kurda, I ask you to be my mate for as long as you’ll have me. I vow to be faithful, to fight in your name, and do all that I can to honor you. I will die for you if required. I will hold no claim to you when you wish to end the commitment. Do you accept my terms?”
“I do.” He nodded.
We kissed as the others clapped lightly, congratulating us. Each commented lightly about the oddity of time, but they left it alone for the most part. As we departed, I couldn’t help but think of the human traditions – being as I was still half-human and had been fully so up until six or seven years ago. It was a simple thought, but one that surprised me for the mere fact that I had it.
If this was what it was like to be married, I didn’t mind it as much.
A few days later, ribs healed for the most part, I had an idea. I would do something for Kurda, a surprise that he would enjoy. Aside from the fun in his ‘bed’, I wanted to give him something else. So while he was out doing something or another – no doubt related to Mr. Tiny’s message from Harkat – I slipped into Kurda’s room.
Picking up a half-finished map, I took a pencil and started my way through the tunnels. It took a lot longer than I thought to find a new space to sketch out. I ran into two collapsed tunnels, marking them on the map. When I tried a third route, I paused.
Did I hear voices?
I frowned. I must be going insane. Or maybe I was under a…I glanced at the map. No. No Halls were above or below me. In fact, this area was so far away from any Hall that…maybe I was going insane. But no, those were definitely voices that kept talking. I stood there for another minute, taking it in. Was I mistaking rushing water for…? No, another look at the map told me there was no source of running water – no around here at least. Given that this section I was in was fairly detailed on the map, I trusted it.
I followed the source of the noise. Who would be down here? Maybe Seba or Gavner or something. Or Kurda himself. The voices got louder. They weren’t familiar. I spotted a light, a fire flickering shadows. I peeked through the way and nearly gasped.
Purple skin. Vampaneze! There were at least thirteen there, but I suspected there were more. I covered my mouth and carefully, quietly, stepped backwards. Vampaneze…in the Mountain? It made no sense. Hadn’t they decided to leave us be? A thought occurred that chilled me to my core. Did they find out about Crepsley and I disposing of Murlough? I had to tell someone, I had to warn the others!
I turn and ran as quick but as quiet as I could. My heart was racing. I held onto the map tightly as I retraced my steps, glancing at it only once to see where I was. I dare not stop until I found another vampire, until I told them what I had seen.
I had crawled up one tunnel and turned, thinking I was close, when I ran into a body. I jumped back with a yelp, raising my fists. Had the vampaneze followed and run ahead of me somehow?! “Easy!” The voice called out, “I’ve been looking everywhere for you, Samantha! Have you been in the tunnels all day?”
“Kurda?” I relaxed. “Oh, thank the gods!” I flung myself into his arms, relieved.
He returned the hug and ran a hand through my hair as we looked at each other. “Did you get lost?” He wondered about my state. “Why were you down here to begin with? It’s dangerous, you know.”
Yes, I thought, but for very different reasons than what you’re thinking. “I wanted to surprise you,” I held up his map, “by adding to this.” His eyes widened. If I weren’t so shaken up, I would have noticed the look of stricken horror across his face that flashed all for a second. Then tension. “I got lost though and I found something! Someone! I don’t know how or why, but there are vampaneze down here! Kurda, we must go warn the others! Come on!” I took his arm and started to walk around him.
He raised his arm, however, and kept me from walking around him. When I glanced up in confusion, I finally noticed the thinning of his lips, the way his gaze rested on the ground. “Wait.” He said softly.
“Kurda?” I stepped back before him. I raised my other hand and lightly touched his cheek, the one without the markings. “What is it?” My panic and anxiety went mute.
“Samantha…” he muttered, “…we can’t.”
“What?!” I stared at him and released his arm. We stood just a few inches apart. “What are you talking about?” Pause. Vampaneze. His peace treaty. His talks. “Do you know them? Are they your friends? Why are they here?” I didn’t understand any of this, but I knew on some level that Kurda…knew these vampaneze. I shivered. “Did they lie to you, Kurda?”
His eyes remained lowered as I spoke. It was as though he were scared or…shamed. “Not…exactly, Samantha.” He looked up at me with a certain steel in his blue eyes. “You are my mate, aren’t you?” I nodded though still unsure of what the meaning of it all was. “Do you trust me?” I nodded again. “Then please…let me explain before you judge me.”
I tensed. What…did he mean? “Go on.” I managed to speak.
Kurda inhaled deeply. “I have invited the vampaneze here. I fear Harkat’s message holds some truth to it. The Lord of the Vampaneze…he is real and he is with the vampaneze now. He hasn’t been blooded, but he survived their test, the Coffin of Fire.” My eyes widened and I wavered slightly. Kurda kept speaking though as if pausing would be the end of it. “This is our only chance to avoid war with the vampaneze. Few want to fight us and despite Mr. Tiny’s message, there are few of us who want to fight them.”
“So…why are…the vampaneze here? In the tunnels?” In secret? I didn’t want to add it, but he understood.
Kurda spoke. “Because I’m going to give them the Stone of Blood.”
“What?!” I gasped out of shock.
“It is my hope to save our race, Samantha, remember this.” He added before explaining further, “With the Stone handed to the vampaneze, we will win them over and prevent a war. We will stop them from blooding the Lord of the Vampaneze – yes, Samantha, he is real and he is in their ranks as a human – and there will be peace. This will gain their trust further, allow our negotiations to serve purpose.”
My head was spinning. I wasn’t sure I understood it all. I knew that if the Lord of the Vampaneze became blooded, they would be forced to obey his will. But to give them the Stone of Blood? They could wipe out the vampires one by one. None could hide from them. Seba, Gavner, Mr. Crepsley…but this would…prevent a war?
I stumbled a step back not in repulsion but from shock. I nearly collapsed to my knees but Kurda, realizing that it was shock and not disgust that sent me back from him, caught me. Once I was standing firmly again, he allowed me space. “But…I…I think…I think I might understand. But…how are you going to get the Stone? Only the Princes…oh.” Pause. “You’re going to overpower the vampires though, aren’t you? That’s why the vampaneze are here. But the other Princes will stop you. How…?”
“It is my hope to keep bloodshed to a minimum, Samantha, but understand…this is for the sake of our clan’s survival. A few lives for that of many?”
“But…but whose lives?” My heart ached at the thought of losing Mr. Crepsley or Gavner or anyone I had met here. He still hadn’t mentioned how he would stop the other Princes. “Those vampaneze will kill whoever stands in the way.” I paused for a moment. “What if…it doesn’t work? What if the vampaneze just kill us with the Stone? What if they still blood their leader after having the Stone?”
“They won’t. If they give their word…”
“How are you going to stop the Princes?” I asked again, feeling as though I were waking from a nightmare. “Will you tell your vampaneze,” for they could be none other than his, “to not kill certain vampires? Like Mr. Crepsley? Or Arra? Or Gavner?”
Kurda gave me a sympathetic look. “I cannot, but a few vampires who die honorably in a fight will be worth saving the entire clan. Please, take a step back and look at the bigger view, my mate.”
He still didn’t mention the Princes. I felt sick. He was going to kill them somehow. And the idea of him being willing to let my friends, his friends, die…I felt ill. I barely managed to keep from vomiting, touching my stomach instead. He didn’t move. He let me have my space. “But…Mr. Crepsley…” my heart ached. Larten…
I wanted to ask him why he hadn’t brought up this plan, this piece of news, to the others. I knew the answer though. We would have gone to war if he did. The vampires would never allow the Stone to be removed. They would rather go out in a war than chance such a thing. It wasn’t the vampire way.
I felt both horror and comfort in this.
Vampire…I was a vampire. I was part of this clan. The very idea of my friends dying when I could have prevented it…I closed my eyes for a moment. No. I had to warn them. I had to or else I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. I would look at myself with repulsion and disgust. I would look upon Kurda with…my eyes opened and saw the serious face of my lover and mate. I thought…we were similar.
Maybe we weren’t so similar after all.
“You said to stay true to yourself…your conscience. I must stay true to mine, my mate.” I spun around and ran.
I cursed when I realized he held the map I had brought. I tried to retrace a path from memory, praying it wasn’t a dead end. What would Kurda do if I did? What would I do? I didn’t want to find out. If he was willing to sacrifice his friends for the clan…I didn’t want to know if he’d sacrifice his mate for the sake of the clan.
My luck was twisted. While I didn’t run into a dead end, I had, instead, run past the vampaneze. They heard me. They heard Kurda. They quickly understood and darted after me. I heard Kurda shout orders at them to not kill me, to not harm me too much. But more importantly, he repeated twice to capture me alive.
I had to get to the others. I had to find a way out of these tunnels – they had maps, I didn’t – and warn the others. If the vampaneze did somehow get the Stone, then so be it, but I needed to tell my people. I needed to give them a fighting chance – something Kurda didn’t see as prudent to do.
Water! I heard the roaring water! I followed it into the tunnel where they once cast their dead down the water. I could hear them closing in behind me. If I wanted to stand a chance, I had to try and jump. If the luck of the gods were with me, I would make it to the other side and find someone soon.
I jumped…and…
My fingertips brushed against the other side. My feet were swallowed by water. I fell in the rushing water and started to be carried away. By some twisted fate, I managed to latch onto a rock. I clung to it and forced myself to lean over it, shivering from the ice cold rapids.
No…no I was so close! I was so close! How could I get out of this alive? How…
“Samantha!” Kurda’s voice pulled me from my panic. “Quick, someone, grab me and lower me down!” When I looked up, shivering, I saw that he was on the banks, leaning over with his hand out stretched. “Samantha! Take my hand!”
I felt sluggish in my thoughts. Was it that cold to screw with my ability to think? Or was it the sluggish shock working its magic? The vampaneze knew. He knew that I would tell. “W-what will you do with me now, Kurda?!” I sneered as best as I could. “Will you kill me?! Is there where you tell me that you want me no more?” I wasn’t sure what would hurt more.
A flash of surprise came over his face before his shook his head. “No! No, I will not! I want you still, I want you safe and warm, with me! You won’t be killed, I swear it! The vampaneze will not harm you, Samantha!”
My nails ached from clinging onto the rock. I looked up at him, then back at my hands. Vampaneze…he would leave me with them, their prisoner, until he became Prince and stole the Stone. And then what? What was I expected to be then? His prisoner? His ‘queen’? His...I couldn’t think. My friends would die and I would live, tied to this man who…who I wasn’t sure about anymore.
It hurt…it hurt so bad. He was betraying the clan but it felt like he was betraying me directly. I had to tell someone…but I couldn’t. I wouldn’t be able to. Whether I became a prisoner or a corpse at the bottom of the waterfall, no one would know until it was too late. I had failed…I failed and I felt crushed.
“Mate,” he called out again, “Please! Take my hand, you do not want to die, I know you!”
I looked up with wide eyes. Death…or prisoner…damn me. He was right. He was right, I didn’t want to die! I was half-vampire, but I was also half-human and that human part screamed for life! I was only aware of the tears that hit my hand because of the blur they caused my vision. Shame…hurt…loathing…I wanted to live!
I pulled myself up and leaned over the rock, wincing when it dug into my hip. With one hand remaining on it, I stretched out my other one. Kurda…my mate…my friend…you fool. Our fingers brushed together. My vision blurred, hiding the relief in his expression. My arms trembled, numb from the water. Just as I leaned further, my hand slipped off the rock.
I fell into the water and was swept away. I swallowed more than a mouthful before I managed to get up, panicking. “KURDA!” I screamed, holding my hand out as if he could possibly get me. I was nearly at the mouth of the tunnel. No, no, it couldn’t end like this…it couldn’t!
“SAMANTHA!” The scream Kurda gave was the last thing I heard before I was pulled under and over. It was a scream of horror, regret, and desperation. It was the scream of a lover who lost their partner and soul. It was the scream of my partner and soul.
Good-bye, Sire…
I think most of the vampires knew who their soon-to-be-Prince had an interest in. Of all people, it would be the half-vampire that showed promise, they said. If it wasn’t obvious by our shared stares, smiles, and touches, then our lingering scents on each other confirmed it. Soon, they whispered, we would probably become mates. After the ceremony, of course.
The second day of the festival was spent drinking, fighting more, and the like. Kurda and I tried to spend most of it together despite the calls to fight. I was relieved, however, to see that Crepsley, despite his scowling, did not challenge Kurda. I wondered if Seba had said something to him.
I noticed something about Kurda.
There was hesitation in his eyes though. At first I thought it was from the fight when he cut my cheek – which was nearly healed already actually. Really…I didn’t want to wonder what that hesitation meant. Did he long for another since past? Was he nervous? Or maybe it was nothing and I was making a big deal out of it.
Whether or not it was there, Kurda accompanied me that evening for ale, ale, and some blood. Food as well, but mostly ale. We drank and were merry, though not drunk. Kurda seemed to be careful in how much he consumed, keeping to the shy side of tipsy. I, however, stepped over that line – it was easier for a half-vampire to get tipsy – and loved it. If anyone doubted the whispers of us before, there were no doubts when my shoulders brushed against Kurda.
When it got late enough, Kurda set aside his mug and stood. “Can I walk you to your room, Samantha?” He inquired, leaning over so I could hear him over the loud cheers behind us. His long hair fell over his shoulder and rested on mine.
I grinned and reached up, stroking it briefly as I shook my head. “I am going to stay for another mug, but thank you, Prince Charming.” I snickered at my own joke – no doubt few understood it. Kurda’s face had warmed with more than just the effects of ale when I stroked his hair, but he didn’t seem displeased.
“As you say. I’ll see you tomorrow. Good night.”
When he was gone, I turned back to see Crepsley staring at me. I shifted, uncomfortable. “What is it?” I asked as I took another full mug.
“You intend to mate with him.” It was a statement.
I nearly choked on my drink. Swallowing the mouthful of ale, I shrugged. I must have looked quite silly, the cuts on my face white compared to the blush. “Er.” Then I recalled telling Crepsley that I would tell him. “Well…let’s say I do. Want to, I mean. Would…I get your blessing?” Pause. “What would that mean for us?” I blinked twice, sobering up at the thought. If I were to go with my mentor away after this, what about my ‘mate’? Or vise versa?
Crepsley held his hand up to signal for me to calm. “Actually…I had intended to wait before telling you, but now seems like an appropriate time.” I sat up straight. “I have been offered a position here, Quartermaster actually. If I accepted, as you are my responsibility…you would stay here along with me.” Meaning I would be with Kurda and Crepsley. My heart leapt.
“Really?!” I smiled.
“Yes. And if this were the case…if you and Kurda intended to enter a mating commitment…then you…have my blessing.”
It sounded like it took quite a bit to spit that out, I thought. Even then it sounded like a growl. I couldn’t help but tease, “I think it may have been easier to pull a tooth from you than get your blessing just there.” But I was glad, relieved even in my state that he wouldn’t make me choose. I knew he didn’t like Kurda. It took a lot for him to spit such words out. He must have seen how happy I was though…or knew that I would be just as stubborn as he.
He nodded. “It may have felt easier as well.” He mumbled into his mug. “Now then…tell me about your latest challenger.”
A couple of hours later, I had sobered up. I started to head to my room, but paused. My eyes flickered towards a hall. I thought for another moment before deciding ‘fuck it’. Crepsley gave me, gave us, his blessing to mate. I had been thinking about it since Kurda and I kissed, and this just pushed me over to the decision. I mean, I still had some questions about it…but I didn’t think I’d be able to find Arra any time soon.
Damning it all, I threw caution to the wind and went to find Kurda’s room. It didn’t take too long to find his door. Before I could pause and rethink, I knocked. Almost immediately I cursed myself – he had gone to bed hours ago! Shit, I thought, what if I woke him?! Maybe I could run off and he didn’t wake and…
The door opened.
I was standing before an awake, though startled, shirtless Prince-to-be. We stared at one another for a moment. Admittedly my eyes were on his chest than his gaze though. “Samantha, this is a pleasant surprise.”
“I…uh…” I stared for another moment. He had a few scars and he wasn’t as, ah, built as Gavner for example, but damn. The only thing that entered my mind was mating.
Luckily for me, he spoke before I could blurt out the ‘m’ word. “Samantha? Are…you alright?” He raised his hand as if he were brushing a strand of his hair from his face. The subtle way to draw my eyes to his face worked.
“Oh, yes, fine.” I could feel my face turn hot. “I’m…I hope I didn’t wake you. I just thought…I mean, I…was about to go to bed, but then…I…I’m not sure why I’m here actually.” Three, two, one, boom my face caught fire. Oh. This was awkward.
Kurda didn’t think so though. He laughed at my stumbling honesty and opened the door further. “Well would you like to come in as you try to find a reason for traveling several halls further past your room?”
I caught a fire burning bright when he opened the door. Ah, I thought, so he hadn’t been asleep after all. Thank the gods, I thought. I stepped in and caught a full force wall of his scent mingled with ink, paper, and dirt. I loved it. I glanced around to see maps and papers scattered about, a few books set nicely, and some blankets on the floor.
I was about to comment on the blankets and even the scattered paper when he shut the door. I became keenly aware of the fact that we were alone…in his quarters…with him shirtless. I turned with the hope of something intelligent to say when I caught side of his back. His hair had no band around it, allowing it to be free from its normal prison. I gaped openly. The shirtless, free flowing haired Kurda looked…fantastic in the fire light.
More entertained than shy, Kurda turned to me with a smirk. “Nice view?”
“The best.” I said without thinking. I glanced up and had to cover face briefly. “I…ahem.” I quickly turned away and looked over his room. “You’ve gotten cozy in here.” Anything to distract me and him from…well, him. It was then I realized something. “Wait, you don’t have a coffin?!” Or a hammock, as I had seen in the cirque.
He nodded and gestured to the pile of blankets that I had barely noted before. “I don’t find much fondness for them so I use a…makeshift bed.”
“Well, looks comfortable all the same.” I smiled. This trip to Vampire Mountain was my first time sleeping in a coffin. It wasn’t bad when you were exhausted, but I can guess how it felt after a while. “And so many maps. All of the tunnels?” I stepped over to the table to glance at one.
He nodded. “I’ve filled numerous pages with routes but there are still so many blank spots on my current one.” He gave a soft sigh.
I looked over a few before my gaze drifted to an aged piece of paper. Brows furrowed, I reached out and gingerly picked it up. It was a note! I tilted my head. “German?” I glanced up in question.
Kurda walked over to see what I was holding. My breath caught when he leaned over to see the note, his body brushing against mine. “Yes, from an old friend. He was an undertaker by profession but during World War II, we helped me and played the role of doctor. Together we saved a few more souls that might have died otherwise. The note is him thanking me; his name was James Ovo.”
I turned to face him, keenly aware of the few inches between us. “Wait, World War II? You were involved in that? How so?” Pause. “I thought vampires stayed out of human affairs.” I had to remind myself that even though Kurda looked around my age, if not a bit older, he…really wasn’t.
“Normally we don’t and I didn’t for the most of it. When word came that the war was about to be won, however, I knew the human medics wouldn’t reach the people who needed them in time. I went to help as many as I could – our spit works wonders – and one day, Larten and Arra stopped by.” He caught the astonished look on my face, but didn’t voice it. Crepsley never told me about this either, obviously. I was able to grasp that this had to have been when he and Arra were mates. “They stayed for a few months to help out. We traveled across the globe, to Japan…it was horrifying, the bombs the humans dropped.” His voice grew quiet at this mention.
I nodded in understanding. I had heard the horror stories. “That’s amazing that you helped people out. Really, I’m impressed.” I thought for a moment. “You’re so…kind hearted.”
He gave a dry chuckle as he took the note from me, placing it back on his desk. “Not exactly vampire material, hm?” Before I could comment, he added further, “During the heat of the war, admittedly, I even helped smuggle some people out of the Nazi controlled areas.” My eyes widened at this. “I received a bit of a tongue-lashing for putting myself and the clan at risk then. You see, the Nazis knew about us. They wanted us as their allies – their weapon. We said ‘no’ in a manner of speaking and they tried to hunt us down. They captured several…but they were all rescued shortly after.”
“That…that’s amazing! I had no idea! And this was all so recent!”
“Larten was one of the few who rescued the vampires that either didn’t heed or didn’t hear of Mika’s warning to leave Europe before the war.” I tried not to let my disappointment show. “Vancha – the fourth Prince – made the Nazis stop by,” he gave a light chuckle, “threatening their leader, in essence. It was a very Vancha-like move more so than a Prince-like action.”
My mind reeled. This put an entire different spin on the history I knew. Not only that, but the man before me…my heart warmed at his deeds. He truly was one of a kind. “Why did you decide to become a vampire? Who blooded you?” His philosophy hadn’t sprung up overnight. The person who turned him must have known what sort of person he was. I wanted to meet them…thank them.
Kurda’s blue eyes seemed to light up. The crackle of the wood behind us sounded loud for a second. “He found me in a saloon during a debate. He said he enjoyed my passion and logic, how I articulated my point. I think I had even changed his opinion about the topic. We spoke further and he said his clan needed someone like me. Fast forward one hundred twenty years later, here I am.”
“What happened to him?”
“…He died in a duel with a vampaneze a few decades later.”
My eyes widened. “And yet…you don’t blame them for it?”
“I couldn’t stick the blame of one person to all. Not only that,” Kurda said, “but it was fair. If he had rejected the vampaneze’s challenge, he would have been shamed.”
I had alredy learned so much about Kurda in the past few nights than I had ever learned of Crepsley. It blew me away, all of this information. “I wish I could have met him, to thank him.” I said after a moment. “You’re amazing.”
Kurda looked shy but laughed softly. “You give me too much credit.” He muttered, rubbing the back of his head lightly.
We studied each other for a long moment. I thought I should have felt my heart racing, felt awkward, impatient, needing to speak…but instead, I was calm. He was calm. This moment felt lovely itself but something nudged me to ask something rather important.
“Kurda…can I ask you something?”
“Of course you can.” He sounded curious.
I hesitated. How to ask this? “How…when…when two vampires make a…mating commitment, how do they do it? I mean, is it written or…?” I had to struggle to keep from looking away.
Kurda looked a bit surprised, but smiled nevertheless. I caught a hint of shyness in his tone though. “Haha, no not at all. You simply speak it. You say how long the contract is, what you swear to give to your mate, and what you hope to gain from your mate. Usually there are others involved to witness the promise but…”
Others? I didn’t care, not right now. Eventually we would make it, er, ‘official’, but I didn’t want to drag him out to find witnesses now. He was still talking but when he saw how thoughtful I looked, he paused and inquired what was wrong.
I bit my bottom lip and spoke. “Kurda…I…I want to be your partner. I will be by your side in battle. I will help you heal when you are hurt. I will provide a distraction and a reminder to keep you grounded while in your Princely duties. I will do what I can to help you grow, accept who you are, and be one you can lean on when times get rough or frustrating. I hope to have the same sentiments repaid.” As I gave what I hoped was a passage ‘mating contract’, I closed the space between us. “I don’t think there is another vampire out there like you, like me. We share a similar philosophy, similar opinions. We see things in a way uniquely us. Together, I think we can really be something…to each other…and others.”
I looked up at Kurda with hope and a bit of fear in my gaze. He studied me with wide eyes, taking in my words. I hoped he wouldn’t reject me. Then his eyes softened and his hand reached up to take my arm. “How long would you want this commitment to be?” There was a flicker of a dark shadow over his face.
I was too excited that he was open to it to notice the tinge of regret and hesitation though. “As long as you’ll have me.” I breathed. It wasn’t a number, but I didn’t care. And judging by how his expression lit up, he much preferred this answer as well.
We both leaned forward and kissed. It wasn’t as soft and loving as before though. The kiss quickly escalated to a passionate, needy sort. My hands traveled over his bare chest and I started to take off my shirt. He helped with the annoyance of clothing, leading me to the ‘bed’ he had before the fire.
I wouldn’t notice or understand the shadow of doubt, hesitation, and regret that he had before or after. I wouldn’t catch how he held me tighter and kissed me longer with a hint of remorse in the afterglow of it all. I wouldn’t see the tear that fell down his cheek while I slept and he lay next to me, thinking over his choices past and future.
For that night, all I knew was the pleasure, warmth, and sense of secure belonging I felt while in his arms.
Needless to say, I chose not to do the Trials.
The last vampire arrived the next day which signaled the start of the Festival of the Undead. Between the previous evening and now, Kurda and I had separated for business – him Princes, me Vanez. He hadn’t been at dinner and neither had I. I still wasn’t ready to face Crepsley, scared of the chance that my provocation might have failed.
So when the news came this morning, it all became a rush. We gathered at the dining hall for the Princes to speak. I spotted the orange vampire across the way – how could I not? – and tried to turn and hide when I bumped into an older vampire. “Seba! Er, hi.” If I thought I could dodge him now, I was wrong.
“Sam!” He greeted me as though he hadn’t walked in on Crepsley and I the other night. “You were about to travel the wrong way, did you know that?” Oh, that smart ass. Before I could comment, he offered his arm and nodded towards Crepsley. “Larten and the others are over here.”
Nothing got by the old man. There was no excuse I could come up with to avoid it or him, so I sighed and accepted my fate by leading the way. He wouldn’t let me run off. As we walked, I heard Seba speak. “When Larten experienced his first Festival, he hobbled outside to sulk. He had been defeated twice almost instantly and went to lick his wounded ego. When I heard this, I found him and knew that he was thinking about running.” Why was he telling me all of this now? We got closer to Crepsley. “I told him a story and gave him some advice…he did not understand. He did not understand for many, many years.” I glanced up at Seba from over my shoulder.
“And why are you telling me this now?”
He leaned forward and spoke lowly so no one would overhear. “Because if I had not stumbled upon the pair of you the other night, he would not have realized what your ploy had been.” I tensed. We were close enough to where Crepsley finally noticed us. I couldn’t read his expression. Was Seba leading me to my doom? “I explained to him that whatever transpired before he lashed out was planned. I told him that you were trying to make his guard around you lax.”
“How did he take it?” I gasped out the words, certain my own expression was one of horror.
“You will see.” With that, we were standing before Gavner and Crepsley, the former of which greeted us eagerly. The Festival was close, he said, just some official business and it could start! Crepsley, however, said nothing. He looked away from me as soon as we stopped walking. I wasn’t sure how to feel about that.
Luckily, or unluckily, the Princes spoke. They greeted, read the names of those who had died and went to Paradise in the last twelve years, and then they smiled. “Luck!” A chorus of the word repeated before chaos and bedlam ensued.
Several challenges were issued to me and, for the most part, I won them all – except for a few bruises. I used the crowds to my advantage, using whatever was lying around that had bene dropped by the others. In short, environmental taught by Crepsley. That was handy.
Time flew like that, fighting and taking hits. Blood, bruises, shouts, and even a finger or an ear flew around me. If this was how vampires acted for fun, I feared how they were in battle. Nevertheless, it was…fun. Lots of it, actually, to be wild and free like that.
Evidently such freedom referred to drinking as well.
But before I could go join a group, however, a hand touched my shoulder. I spun on and, due to the recent events, instinctively made to punch the person. Said person, however, caught my fist but did nothing more. I gasped when I saw who it was. “Mr. Crepsley!”
I had seen Crepsley in the…fun of it all as well. He let loose and even smiled while he fought – it was a sight to behold. To see him before me, however, startled me. He wasn’t angry but he wasn’t happy either. In fact, his hair was messy and I became suddenly interested in his scar once more. Otherwise, he didn’t wear a mark – so far.
“Mistress Ivy.” He greeted me evenly. “I had hoped to talk before the Festival but…” yeah. Avoidance. “I see you are fairing well.” Pause. “Better than I did during my first Festival.”
He released my hand and it fell to my side as I stared. Did he just…? He did! He told me a bit about his past! I mean, granted, Seba had mentioned it before but I don’t think he knew that. And most importantly, it came from his lips! “T-thanks.” I managed to speak.
Crepsley smiled at my shock. “Can we talk somewhere quiet?” I nodded and together we found a supply room that was, for the moment, quiet. I wanted to talk about the other night, about what happened and what my intent was…but nothing was said.
After a moment, Crepsley sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Do you recall a line I often use in the show with Madame Octa?”
“Uh.” I blinked. “What?”
“The line I say after she spins a web and I consume it.”
“I don’t…are you…um.” Okay. “You say that spider webs are a delicacy where you come from.” Which I always figured to be a jest or some weird vampire thing – like caviar.
“I first met Seba in a crypt.” Somehow I wasn’t surprised. “I will save the tale for ‘why’ for another time, but I was a child and hungry. Starving, in fact. I had no idea I was not alone at the time and spotted a vast amount of spider webs nearby.” A bit of color entered his cheeks. “I had hoped that they might hold something more than simply webs and…wrapped them around my finger before I ate them.” I had to fight to keep my expression neutral. “The first thing Seba ever said to me to announce his presence was, ‘Are spider webs a delicacy from where you are from?’.”
I stared. It almost sounded like a really bad punch line to an even worse joke, but he was serious. He was absolutely fucking serious about the origin of where that line came from. But…he was telling me this. Crepsley, right now, right in front of me, was telling me of the time he first met Seba. Forget that it was utterly ridiculous, he was telling me.
Suddenly Seba’s words from earlier that day made perfect sense.
That night after I left, Seba must have caught on quick and explained my plan to Crepsley. And this…this was my mentor’s way of being more open with me. And, I think, apologizing since it was such an…interesting story.
I smiled. He blinked. I chuckled and brushed a lock of my hair back from my face. “I challenge you to a fight…Larten.” I grinned wider as I spoke his name. It rolled off my tongue and sent a rather pleasant chill down my spine.
Evidently I wasn’t the only one to feel it, judging on how he shivered. His grin mirrored mine. He understood, I understood. All was forgiven and paths were a bit clearer for the future now. For the present, however, there was a fight to be had.
In the end, Crepsley beat me. He was simply just far too quick for me to handle! It was close though and that was good enough for me. We both threw a few good punches – and kicks – and ended our interaction with a mug of ale. It was tempting to consume more than a mug, but I held back. There was one other person who I was anxious to fight today. Even though the Festival lasted three days, I wanted, needed, to fight this person today. Only then would I allow myself to get shitfaced with the other vampires.
I roamed the Hall of Sports searching. Really, the Hall of Sports was…everywhere. Vampires fought as they pleased on their way to it. I was just about to give up when I spotted my target: long, blond hair. “Kurda!” I shouted and maneuvered my way over.
He turned and spotted me immediately. If I was concerned about how he might react after last night, those concerns were wiped out with his smile. “Samantha!” He waved. “You look a bit roughed up, having a pleasant time then?” He grinned.
I glanced down at myself. Oh. My clothes were a bit torn, fairly dirty, and I became conscious of how many scrapes and sore places – bruises no doubt – I had over me. I brushed my hair back from my face and was startled to feel a bit of blood on the ends – it wasn’t my blood. “Oh the best.” I answered. “Yourself?” I looked him up and down but couldn’t spot a mark on his bright blue suit. “Have you just been walking and drinking?!” I could smell a bit of ale from his breath, but nothing excessive. “You must be bored if you aren’t partaking in any of the activities to the extreme.”
Kurda gave a dry chuckle. “I’m afraid to say I don’t take much enjoyment of acting like a wild child. Luckily I only have to endure this once every twelve years.” Yup, I thought, he was bored. I couldn’t blame him for it though. In fact, I couldn’t recall ever seeing him fight, more often he would be vocally against it. And drinking…well, he seemed to enjoy being in control of himself, so why drink?
Truth be told, I wouldn’t have gotten into the festivities as I had if it weren’t for fighting my mentor…and the other person. Him. I wanted to fight Kurda. Why? For fun, of course, as the Festival suggested. I wanted to see his style, his preference, his behavior. I wanted to see his reaction to me in a fight. Last night only furthered these wants. Why? I’m not sure…it just felt…intimate in that sense. Enticing. Like foreplay.
But just as I opened my mouth to challenge him, someone beat me to it. “How about it Kurda? Like your chances?” It was Arra! I looked up at the woman on the bars and then at Kurda. I wasn’t the only one to do so.
Kurda’s expression of surprise changed into a cautious sort of sheepishness. “I have a sore leg, Arra,” he called back to her.
I shifted to my other foot, feeling suddenly awkward. Well, I thought, good thing she asked first. Still, I was a bit disappointed. “Really, Kurda?” I asked softly, “Because I…was going to challenge you myself actually.” I felt a bit silly saying such a thing. He turned to look at me with surprise, lips parted. I caught him off guard.
Arra jumped down one bar lower. “Come on, even a pacifist like you can’t refuse a challenge during the Festival of the Undead!”
I knew that from the get-go. Still, I didn’t feel right asking Kurda now. Not if he had a sore leg. Damn, I thought, I didn’t want to beat him without it being fair. Arra had a point though and she didn’t care whether or not if it was ‘fair’. She wanted to knock him off the bars.
Kurda understood this as well. He sighed, took off his shoes, and went to pick a staff. I gaped as I followed him. Was this same nervousness and unease he felt when I had gone up to the bars? “Whoa, wait! You’re going to fight her?! But she hasn’t been beaten in eleven years!” As if he needed to be reminded of that.
Kurda grimaced. “I know.” He picked a staff, tossed it in the air for a better feel, and then nodded to himself.
“Well…just, be careful. Dodge a lot,” whoa déjà vu, “because she’ll crack your head open if given the chance.” Wow had our positions switched.
“Thank you for your optimism!” He snapped.
I gave a weak grin. “My optimism is that you’ll come down at your own volition.” I mumbled as he walked up. By that time, a large crowd of vampires had come around to watch. I also hoped his sore leg wouldn’t be broken by the time this finished.
“I’ve been waiting for decades to get you up here!” Arra called out to the man with a grin.
“I hope it proves worth the wait.” He responded as he stood across from her.
She made the first move, he blocked. She said something, then he did, but I couldn’t hear from this far below. The match kept up in silence after that for a few minutes. They were intense to simply watch from the ground!
Arra’s staff knocked into Kurda’s knee and I jumped, barely able to restrain a gasp. He knelt, thrown off guard from the pain – was his sore leg so bad before to be in pain from such a hit? Arra caught this as well and made to dive for the kill.
That’s when it all changed.
Kurda jumped to another bar while spinning around. His staff connected with the back of Arra’s knees and she flew off the bars. The sound of her landing was painful and loud – perhaps it was because everyone nearby had gone silent to watch in awe and shock. It remained like that for another moment as we all processed what just happened.
“Are you okay, Arra?!” Kurda shouted with genuine concern, darting down to check.
Suddenly what Vanez had said when we first met played in my head. ‘Kurda was fast as an eel, and wiry, but he hated getting his hands bloody.’ I see, I thought as I watched him land on his feet. Sore leg? He had no such thing! It had been a trick! Wiry and fast indeed! And hey, my optimism that he would land from his will alone had paid off.
I went over just as I heard Kurda speak to the defeated vampire. “I will if you take my hand.” He was offering her his hand to both shake at last – surely he earned her respect – and to help her stand. I noticed then how big his smile was, how…hopeful and excited he was at the prospect.
This was a man who half just shy of half the Generals vote against him. He got a lot of flak for not fighting and not having similarly bulging muscles – never mind mentioning the vampaneze which only isolated him further. To have the respect and at least acceptance of one General…it meant a lot.
“I cannot,” Arra looked away.
Kurda shifted. I caught the hurt in his expression even though he kept smiling. “That’s alright, I still forgive you.” Forgive her? For what, I wondered.
“Thank you. You beat me cleanly, and…it shames me to refuse your hand, but I cannot!” She suddenly stood and darted through the crowd, shamed.
I stared. The crowd, after cheering and getting over the shock that Kurda the Pacifist had won against Arra Sails, parted to other challenges. In a sense, we were alone. “What…did you forgive her about?” I asked carefully, noticing how Kurda’s body language seemed to…well, sink. He caught that we were ‘alone’ as well evidently. I was briefly surprised by this for it meant he was comfortable enough with me to show how he felt, at least through stance and posture.
“She accused me of cheating by faking an injury. There is nothing against the rules stating this so she apologized for making an unjust allegation.” His eyes and chin were pointed to the ground as he moved, his shoulders a bit slumped. I felt bad just watching him, horrible even. “I feel sorry for her.” He sighed as he sat down.
I sat next to him, emotions mirrored to a lesser extent. I felt that this was as much for me as it was for him, the closeness and semi-privacy. “Which part?” I inquired, leaning back on my hands.
Kurda wrapped his arms around his legs. “Her refusal to shake my hand will haunt her for the rest of her life. It will shame her and others who think similar will also view her action dimly. How sad it is to be stuck in one’s ways.”
I watched him for a moment in silence. Nearly the whole clan was stuck in their ways, but I didn’t say that. He seemed to think the same either way though based on what he said. “Out of the nine that passed this time,” he referred to the nine vampires that died from last Council, “five could have been prevented. They were showing off, vying for the approval, to impress their fellow vampires. No doubt there will be a few souls departing to Paradise here before the three days end. All for the opinion of others.”
I shuddered visibly. It was supposed to be ‘fun’ though. I knew loss of limb was frequent, but death amongst friends, for a challenge? I bit my bottom lip.
“It’s sad. Pointless and sad.” He whispered.
The mood had quickly become gloomy. I didn’t want to feel this way, not after all that had happened so far. And more so, I didn’t want to see him like this. I cleared my throat. “You were amazing up there though.” I smiled. Don’t be so somber, I thought. “I know my opinion doesn’t matter, but I’m impressed!”
Kurda looked up from his thoughts and position. He looked surprised once again. “Thank you,” he said, “I appreciate it. And your opinion does matter…”
I smirked, deciding to poke at him. “I thought you said that no one’s matters but your heart’s, that it was stupid to do anything foolish to impress another?”  It was getting him out of his funk at least.
A grin took its place on Kurda’s lips. “True, but for certain people I’ll make an exception.”
We stared at each other, saying it but not saying it. Certain people, hm? He cared a bit of what I thought. I smiled and kept his gaze until my cheeks warmed. I chuckled and looked away, embarrassed. This was new, I thought, to both feel it but not speak it. Not yet. It…well, what was the rush? We had forever a day. But I knew he knew and he knew I knew just by how we looked, how we smiled…there was a more comfortable air between us. An ease.
I made to stand, prepared to get a drink or something like it, when he spoke. “Samantha?”
My heart would never cease to jump when he said my name. “Yes Kurda?” I looked at him as he stood.
There was a mischief in his smile. “I challenge you to a fight – pick the type.”
My eyes widened. He just…challenged me…to a fight?! But he…wasn’t it…I smiled wide. It was because I had mentioned wanting to originally challenge him when Arra beat me to it. “You challenging me because you want to or because I want to?”
“Are you trying to deny me?” He paused, realizing what that sounded like. “My challenge to fight, that is.”
I snickered. “And have my fragile ego shattered? Never!” I thought for a moment. “Hand-to-hand…not here though. Let’s go outside.” Usually my small stance and swiftness helped me in hand-to-hand with most vampires who were big and slow. Crepsley was tall but quick as lightning. Kurda…was tall but not as bulky. I would have to come up with a new strategy.
“Hand-to-hand is acceptable.” He nodded. “But…outside? In the snow?” He raised a brow. “Are you hoping to throw me off the edge of the mountain?”
“Believe it or not, there are some things I wish to keep private from the clan’s eyes. Not everything is for fame and glory, yes?” I tried not to blush. It seemed that both of us were speaking it without speaking it. He caught on and looked a bit shy as well, just for a second.
“Well said. Shall we?” Kurda’s teeth flashed as he grinned.
The cold was refreshing. I had been in the mountain for so long that I forgot how crisp it smelt outside, all the snow. And bright, despite the moon being only half full. I walked a bit further when he stopped a bit away from the entrance. “First to get three good hits?”
“First to get three good hits.” He agreed with a nod, readying himself.
He moved first. I think he knew I wasn’t expecting it. I managed to dodge a fist and tried to kick him. He dodged and I jumped away in case he thought to grab my ankle. This similar style repeated three times. Well, this was going well so far.
I huffed. “I hope you aren’t trying to go easy on me, ‘Sire’.” I half-joked.
“When I choose to get into a fight, I do not hold back…my lady.” He smirked as he returned the half-jest.
Despite it meant jokingly, I paused. To hear it come from his lips…fuck. That was what he wanted, I realized, as I saw a limb fly towards me. I cursed and crouched only to have his foot connect with my shoulder. I flew onto the ground but didn’t give into the luxury of making snow angels. As soon as I hit the snow, I rolled away – and I was right! Seconds after I did so, Kurda landed from jump his of where I had been!
Taking advantage of his moment of being unprepared, however brief, I swung my foot up from my position. It connected with the back of his head, sending him flying forward. I jumped up, partly to prepare for an attack and partly out of concern. “Kurda?!” I was relieved that we were alone. The others would no doubt tease me for my worry.
The man grimaced as he stood a few feet away, brushing off the snow. “One to one.” I took this as a good sign. He made for me and I jumped back, wary of our distance. He caught on and suspected I might relent unless he did something. So with a burst of speed that palely mirrored Crepsley’s, I blinked and he was before me.
It was a mess of dodging hits more than giving them. It felt like it lasted a long time but I knew it could only have been thirty seconds at best. He had me cornered, I realized as I felt the mountain against my back. I crouched and grabbed a handful of snow. When his eyes met mine, I flung the snow at his face. It made him take a step back, startled by the momentary blindness. I took advantage of this. He would expect me to strike him now like this, so I tried something different.
I used the mountain to jump off of it, jump over Kurda, and land on my feet behind him. I shoved him on the back, sending him against the wall he had cornered me with moments ago. Alright, perhaps I didn’t want to punch him there. Either way… “Two to one – not counting the bounce off the wall.” I panted before backing up, wary of the wall that he could propel himself off of.
With the snow free from his vision and a sharp ache traveling through his chest and back – thanks to the wall – he turned and scowled. “You used snow.” It wasn’t an outrage cheating accusation because despite his frustration, he sounded also impressed.
“Environmental isn’t technically a weapon.” I pointed out. “I’ll have to be cautious of what you use since I just opened the door both ways.”
“You’re right.” He said before he turned and ran at me. An idea occurred to me. I ran at him.
At the last second, I side stepped him – his nails grazed my cheek. I winced and cursed. Two to two. Nonetheless, I grabbed his long hair and used it to help me skid to a stop. I heard his grunt and turned, kicked the back of his knees to force him to kneel before me.
I was grinning despite the blood that slowly trickled down my face. With a tight grip of his ponytail, I spoke in his ear, “That’s why I keep mine short.”
“Smart idea…my lady.” He panted. I could hear the smile in his words. Before I could react further or strike him to win, he reached back and grabbed my shirt collar. With a fierce throw, I found myself sailing through the air with a yelp.
I managed to land and skid on my feet a bit, startled when my stop was complete by a tree. How far had we gotten on the edge of the mountain? I glanced back at the tree and when I turned, standing as I did, I knew it had been a mistake. Kurda had sprinted before me and I had just a split second to side step his fist as it connected to the tree. The bark shattered, his fist indented in it. Fuck!
We were tied.
Given his position, so close to me, and the strength he had just used, and lost, in his miss hit…I could win this. All I had to do was strike him. All I had to do was raise my knee or my fist. He was still reeling from the tree, recovering for probably another two seconds or so. All I had to do…to the man before me…panting…both of us running on adrenaline…breathless…
My mind shut off and my body took over. My foot pressed against the tree to move me forward as my arms raised, wrapping around his neck. Before he could comprehend it – before even I could! – I tilted my head and kissed him.
We froze and took in the sensation of our lips, both chilled from the snow, touching. What felt like minutes were merely seconds. I slowly pressed myself against him, arms around, and melting into the kiss. Kurda moved only to wrap his arms around me, keeping me close as he returned with a similar needy passion.
We broke away just long enough to breathe and move before claiming each other’s lips once more. I could feel his hand in my hair, far softer than the abuse I put my scalp through the other night. My nails sunk into his shoulders. I didn’t want this to end, it felt amazing.
But we eventually parted, breathless as we looked into each other’s eyes. We didn’t move for another few minutes, simply cherishing the feeling of being in each other’s arms. Content, I thought, it brought me peace. We still didn’t say it. We didn’t want to. But we kissed lightly, him stroking my hair and me toying with his.
Best Festival of the Undead ever.


United States
Current Residence: One of Two Homes.
Favourite genre of music: Several.
Favourite photographer: Several.
Favourite style of art: Several.
Personal Quote: ...What, only one quote? :S
If I made more of the Frollo/Esmeralda mini-canvases (…), would anyone be interested in buying them? o.o

AdCast - Ads from the Community



Add a Comment:
Amarna Featured By Owner Aug 19, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thx for the fav ^3^
Diamond-Stud Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2015  Student

Thank you so much for the fav!!! :hug::iconmonkeyloveplz:

Sasatsuma Featured By Owner Nov 17, 2014  Hobbyist
Thank you for the fave! Happy :happydancer: 
Cosplay-by-Elazule Featured By Owner Oct 29, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks for watching~ Hope to have a new photo set up soon.
StickieBun13 Featured By Owner Oct 25, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you for watching :3 ^^ :hug:
LilyHellsing Featured By Owner Oct 26, 2014
Haha, my pleasure!
Willemijn1991 Featured By Owner Aug 24, 2014
Thanks so much for watching me :happybounce:  It's a great honour and I hope I won't dissapoint Pony Kiss Lots of Love, Willemijn :love: 
Nevuela Featured By Owner Jun 11, 2014
How goes it? :)
LilyHellsing Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2014
Swamped. You?
Nevuela Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2014
Was, but now things are calming down a bit. Just trying to deal with the hellish summer heat. Today's the first nice day in a while, though. :)
Add a Comment: