A vampire king relentlessly pursues his fleeing queen.
"Will you ever forgive my brother for what he has done?"
I glared at Elizabeth, but my heart wasn't in it. I looked away to gaze into the fire once more. I wasn't mad at her. I was mad at Patrick. "How can I forgive him? He tortured an innocent man." And brought me unbearable pleasure as he did so... I wasn't sure which part of that was worse.
"If it means anything to you, I have seen to the boy's care. He is healed and will not remember last night's events. He is safe in his own home now."
I looked back up at her. The fire light danced off of the rich auburn waves of her hair. "You did that?" I asked.
She smiled a small smile and took a seat beside me on the divan. "Aye, my queen. I do have some sway in this house," she shrugged. "Though it's nothing compared to the power Patrick holds, of course. He is the king, after all."
"He killed Simon," I told her, not ready to give up on the subject of Patrick's evil just yet.
Elizabeth looked at me for a long time, and then she cocked her head to one side. "My queen, you must know this -- that man was deeply troubled. He was not well. If he had not died, he would have killed that night."
I blinked. "What?" I asked, incredulous. "Simon? What are you talking about?"
Elizabeth's expression was at once tired and sad. "A vampire always knows what is in a person's heart," she told me. As she said this, she gently laid the palm of her hand over my chest. I felt the spark of energy jump from her skin through my shirt and into my body. My eyes widened and her smile returned. "It is the heart which gives life to your blood. And it is your blood which brings you life. It is the center of your world -- and of ours."
Silence filled the room. Our gazes held for a long while and then her hand softly dropped back to her lap. The king's sister looked away to stare into the fire of the hearth once more. "You are, by far, the most powerful latent our kind has ever known."
I wasn't quite sure what to say to that. I still felt as if I was trapped in a waking dream. Sometimes, I literally felt as if I would burst at the seams with all of the magic swirling around in my veins.
"It' hurts sometimes," I said softly.
She obviously understood what I was talking about because she nodded. "Once a latent's powers are released, her magic will grow until it is unbearable."
"What do you mean by that?" I asked. A distinctly nasty kind of fear began to churn up in the pit of my stomach. "What do you mean by 'unbearable'?"
She sighed and her shoulders dropped. "You must make the change, my queen. Or your powers will overtake you." She looked at me then. A world of emotion was having a field day behind those green eyes. "You will die."
I don't know what my face must have looked like at that moment, but it must have been bad, because she reached for my hand and held it. It brought me no comfort what so ever. I was numb from head to toe and nauseated with terror at the same time. I was also angry. Mad as hell.
"That's why he bit me, isn't it?" I asked. My gaze narrowed of its own accord; my field of vision was turning slightly red. "So that I wouldn't have a choice but to become a vampire. To become a queen." I think, somewhere, my inner child stood up then and started playing with matches. My palms began to heat up. The books on the shelf began to tremble in their places; the door rattled in its frame.
Lightning split the sky and thunder shook the window pane.
Elizabeth glanced down at my hands, then around at the unsettled room, and then back up at me. She swallowed and shook her head. "No, my queen. That is not why my brother tasted of you. I admit that it was the reason Sonya and I wanted him to give you the kiss..." She closed her eyes and shook her head. "But not Patrick." She opened her eyes again and her expression fairly begged me to believe her.
"Patrick took you because he loves you. Because it was torture for him to see you every night, to be near you, to watch you dreaming and to never follow through with what every fiber of his being wanted him to do." She licked her lips as the wind picked up outside and a book shimmied off of the shelf to land on the marble floor.
Nervously, she continued. "Can't you see, my queen? You are made for him -- and he for you. Can't you feel it?"
There was so much wrong with what she'd said that I didn't know where to start.
Patrick had been watching me?
I blinked. Of course he had, I realized. He moved in right across the street. His sisters had accused him of hiding me from them...
Oh my god, I thought. How long? How long had he been waiting? Watching?
And then I realized that it didn't matter. The important thing -- the hellish thing -- now, was that I had a choice to make. Become a vampire or die.
"You're telling me," I said as I rose, "that I either let your king take away every sunrise and sunset I will ever know -- take away color and Springtime and diamonds in the snow -- or I will just die?"
She rose as well and even took a step back. I could tell she was searching for something to say. I could feel her unease coming off of her in tiny, nervous waves.
"You've killed me," I told her. It wasn't a question.
"Not if you join us," she insisted. "To us, the moon is the sun. We don't miss the day light. Mortals fool themselves into thinking it would be something horrible to go without. But the moon and stars light our nights as fiercely as the sun burns your days. We miss nothing. You must believe me-"
"Must I?" I asked then. She fell silent.
My emotions and thoughts were a jumbled mess and they were blanketed by a rage unlike any I'd ever known. All that I knew for certain was that, at that moment, I wanted to run away. I wanted to be somewhere hell and gone from the Sinclaire mansion, far away from the vampires and their immortal plans. I wanted to go back in time, tell my boss I wasn't going to Sinclaire's party, and then pack up and move to Australia. I like Australia.
Elizabeth's eyes began to widen.
The room seemed to be receding... Everything around me blurred. Dizziness swept over me and I raised my arms as if to steady myself. But the world tipped on its axis, all the same. Somewhere in all of that blurred topsy-turvy chaos, Patrick's red-haired sister cried out and lunged toward me.
And then she was gone. And so was the room.
In fact, there was nothing but the feel of sand beneath my fingers, a distant lull of ebbing surf, and the cries of a few sea gulls.
It took me a moment to realize that I was laying on the ground and that my eyes were closed. I opened them and stared down at my hands where they gripped fists-full of fine sand. It was night. I rolled over and looked up. The full moon shone bright, lighting the outline of the coast, which seemed to go on for miles.
The beach was deserted.
I waited a moment, just to be sure I could do so without falling, and then I got my feet underneath me and looked up and down the long line of sand and water.
I shook my head, disbelieving. I recognized this place. I'd been here for my college graduation. My friends and I... It was the Gold Coast.
"Oh, you have got to be shitting me."
If it weren't for the fact that I'd been forced to grow used to my burgeoning powers over the last several days, this one would have utterly floored me. As it was, I was stunned. It would appear, for all the world, as if I'd teleported -- for lack of a better word -- clear across the planet. In the blink of an eye.
Yet another impossibility to chalk up to latent powers.
"Oh, Christ!" I hollered. "Now what?!" I looked up at the clear night sky and held out my hands, beseechingly. "What the hell am I supposed to do?!" I spun in a circle, utterly directionless and without a clue as to where I should go or what I should do.
Eventually, I sank back down in the sand. I folded my arms on my knees and rested my forehead on them.
Okay, I told myself. Just think. You wanted out of the mansion. You wanted to be away from Sinclaire. Well, now you are... Now if you can just figure out a way to stay alive without becoming a vampire, you'll be fine.
Tell me where you are, luv.
My head snapped up. I looked around. But I was still alone. The question had come, not from outside -- but from within.
Where. Are. You?
It was Patrick, his tone impatient and demanding. Across all of these miles? I knew that he'd created a bond between us, but I'd had no idea it was so strong.
You are my queen, he told me, plainly. I will find you anywhere.
No, you won't! I mentally screamed at him, at once feeling trapped, even on this beach with not another soul in sight and nothing but water to the horizon. I will not be a vampire! I'll find a way out of this, I thought furiously. And... I stood up and looked around, striving for some sense of purpose or direction. I had to get help. Help of a powerful kind. And..., I continued. You'll never see me again!
Low laughter rolled through my mind like thunder and wrapped around me like strands of spider's silk.
I gritted my teeth, hating the way my body automatically responded to the sound of his voice and the power it commanded.
You're on a beach... Came his voice again.
Crap! I'd given that much away already? How? It must have been in my subconscious thoughts... His reach was deep, indeed.
I tried with all of my might to throw up a mental wall. I began muttering mental gibberish -- in every language on the planet -- hoping that I could throw him off of my trail. In the meantime, I ran.
You are only weakening yourself, my love. Do you believe you can outrun me? Where do you think you will go? There is no place on this planet where you can hide from me.
Get out of my head! I stopped with the gibberish and screamed at him in English. I couldn't help it. He just knew how to push my buttons.
More laughter. Keep talking, my sweet.
I stopped running. He'd sounded clearer just then. Stronger. Closer.
Was he actually moving toward me?
No, it couldn't be. I shook my head. I knew he could move with blurring speed. And, that was a heck of a lot faster than a plane could move. But he still had an entire ocean to cross... The flight was something like fourteen hours. I had at least a few hours, didn't I?
Ah... So, you're in the land of thieves. Fitting that they should then steal my future bride from me as well.
Oh my god! I'd just given myself away!
I tried to take to the skies, but when I raised my arms and attempted to lift off, nothing happened. I felt glued to the Earth. That power simply wasn't there for the taking. Confused and frustrated, I closed my eyes and, in the hopes of teleporting once more, I began thinking of other places... Easter Island... Greece...
Again, nothing happened.
And once more, Patrick's laughter whipped at my consciousness.
I began to run again. Desperation fueled my body and my long legs ate up the sand at a good pace. Before long, I was off of the beach and up on a board walk of some sort. Still no one in sight. I paused for only a moment, then continued at break-neck speed. I had no idea what I was even looking for. I figured I would either know it when I saw it.
Or Patrick would catch me.
Either way, I wasn't ready to give up just yet.
Why do you continue to fight me? Patrick's voice was tinged with something that I couldn't quite put my finger on. It made me feel tired. Would it truly be so bad?
I didn't answer. I didn't need to. Whatever information he wanted from me, he could simply dig out of me on his own. Instead, I concentrated on where I was and, despite the weakening influence of his mental connection, I managed to notice a symbol in one of the windows I passed as I ran by.
A pyramid with an all-seeing eye above it. Below the symbol was a list of services: "Palm-reading, practical spells, Tarot cards, a wide selection of rare spell components."
I stepped back and looked up. Whoever owned the shop probably lived on the second floor.
I bit my lip. It was a hopeless plan and I knew it. But I'd already learned that vampires existed. Maybe witches did too. And I was desperate.
I knocked on the door.
They can't help you, luv.
He was closer, still.
Will you drag another innocent mortal into our affair?
He was closer...Shut up! I screamed. Tears were building in my eyes. I didn't want to kiss the sun good-bye. And I didn't want to die. I'd never known such despair. I knocked on the door again, this time banging on it with abandon.
A light came on in the upstairs window.
A man's face appeared behind the glass. His skin was dark and his features looked as if his heritage were half Aborigine and half Caucasian. He peered down at me and I waved frantically. "Please help me!" I called up, hoping against hopes that he wouldn't discount me for a raving lunatic and greet me at the door with a baseball bat.
He frowned at me for a moment and then put his hand up, palm-out, in a sign for me to wait. A few minutes later, he was unlocking the shop door.
I wasted no time. "Please help me. I don't know where else to go." I didn't know what else to tell him. My situation was so complicated and so... unbelievable.
His gaze narrowed on me for a moment. He had the grayest eyes I'd ever seen. Gray like slate. Like silver. Molten and metal. Finally, he nodded and gestured for me to come inside.
He's a dead man, Patrick's voice promised. You will regret this.
The silver-eyed man led me to a room with a table in its center. But he moved past the table and toward a curtained-off section at the back of the room. I experienced a very brief moment of insecurity. I was a woman, after all, and this was a strange man. But the apprehension was gone as soon as he shoved the curtains aside to reveal a small sitting room, draped in tapestries -- and a woman seated at the low-lying table. She looked up at me with eyes that matched the man's eyes. Siblings.
"He is coming for you, isn't he?" She asked me.
I blinked. I realized several things in that moment. One, she was speaking to me in a language that I would not have known several days ago. Two, she was talking about Patrick. Which meant that she knew. She knew everything.
I swallowed audibly. And then nodded. "How can you know that? How can any of this be?" I was so bewildered. This last week was simply too implausible.
"It is fate that has brought you here," she told me. She gestured for me to sit down and the man left, closing the curtains behind him. "We haven't much time."
The air around me seemed to grow thick. Something like a deep, resonant and slowly rolling growl echoed in my ears; a foreign agitation stole through my limbs. Patrick was angry.
"Please, is there some way for me to turn off these powers -- to not be a latent anymore -- so that I don't have to become a vampire?" I got right to the point.
The woman studied me solemnly.
Get out of there, luv. He wasn't laughing now.
"First, I must insist on a measure of privacy," she said. She struck a match and lit a black candle on the table. At once, I felt Patrick's influence unwrap itself from around me and slide away. That was some incredible candle.
"That's better." She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "The wind brings hot air to cold places and a breeze to a fevered forehead. Everything must balance out in the end," she told me. "You have power now, but to keep it, you must make a sacrifice. You are not willing to make this sacrifice?"
"You mean become a vampire?"
The woman nodded.
No," I said. I realized, once I said it, that it lacked the conviction it should have held.
The woman cocked her head to one side and her gaze narrowed. "Then you must sacrifice the power, itself."
She shrugged, as if it should be obvious. "You must die."
I stared at her. And then I stared at her some more. And then I closed my mouth and opened it again. "What?" I finally asked.
"The vampires possess a wine which has the ability to heal, do they not?"
"If you are given this wine as the last of your breath leaves your body..." She gestured to the mark on my neck and I touched it self-consciously. "Then the king will have no hold over you. Along with his influence will pass your powers. With luck," she added with a smile. "You will live."
It was a good long while before I was able to speak again. I had no idea how close Patrick was now, but I was too caught up in what the woman was telling me to give it enough thought. "That's it?"
The woman laughed. "What did you expect? A crystal ball and a magic wand?"
"Well..." Actually, I sort of had. I mean, life had become a veritable fairy tale for me of late. "I - I have to die..." My voice trailed off. I took a shaky breath and rubbed my forehead. I wasn't feeling so well. It was warm in the room, but I felt cold. And my body sort of hurt. It must have been the run across the sand. And the punishment Patrick had put me through. Maybe I was just anemic.
"Your gifts are exacting their toll on you," the woman told me then. Her voice had dropped to something barely above a whisper. "Whatever it is you choose, child," she gave my hand a squeeze. "You must choose it soon."
With that, she stood and released my hand.
"Now, you must go. The vampires draw near. I will not have them destroy my home to get to you. Please understand."
I stumbled up out of the chair and tried to thank her, but only a squeak of a "thanks" would come out. I was too wrapped up in the horror of the situation, like a mummy, trapped in its bindings as its brains were pulled out of its nostrils... I, too, felt paralyzed, figuratively -- and a little, literally.
"Go out the back door," she said. "There is an alley-way and an empty warehouse next door." Her expression was sincerely sad. "I am sorry that I can not help you more."
I left the room, shoving the curtains aside. The man who'd led me into the house now showed me to the back door and opened it for me. With the open door came the flood of night. I knew what waited in that darkness. There was no candle beside me now. I could feel them out there. The king -- and others. They were like flashing red lights on a radar screen, fanned out on a map and honing in on their beacon. He had come for me and he had reinforcements.
I stepped through the door and into my destiny.
The alley was dark and deep. A rat scratched at the trash bin as it scrounged through some garbage, emitting a high-pitched squealing sound.
Overhead, bats flocked across the night sky. I remembered that about Australia. Lots of bats. I shivered and wiped at my brow. My forearm came away damp. I was dying. I understood that now.
I made it to the door on the opposite end of the alley and, with one determined kick, I knocked it in. A gaping storage space loomed beyond, dark and quiet.
I went in, strode to the center of the room, and stood in silence.
And there it was... That familiar wave of comfort and contentment and forbidden bliss. It licked at me, teased me, and then rushed me, wrapping me in its steely grip. My knees went weak. They shook. More sweat broke out along my brow and pooled between my breasts. I could hear my shaky breaths in the daunting silence of the dark, empty space around me. I forced myself to remain standing. I have always been very stubborn.
"Was it really worth it, luv?"
I knew he was there, of course. I had felt his presence the moment I'd stepped out of the witch's shop. Apparently, Australia wasn't all that far, as the vampire flies.
The sound of boots on pavement echoed throughout the vast warehouse. A shaft of moonlight pierced the dust-motes a few feet in front of me. It was into this light that Patrick stepped. I gazed up at him.
He looked like an angel. Handsome beyond compare, eyes that glittered like blue diamonds, dressed in the color of night... The angel of death.