Authors: Megan Duncan
Copyright © 2013 by Megan Duncan
These stories are works of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any
means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from Megan Duncan.
Cover art by Robin Ludwig Design
Dedicated to Dustin. You are, and always will be, the brightest star in the heavens.
Flames licked our tear-stained faces as we gathered around the funeral pyre. Massive bodies tangled in grotesque heaps turned to ash in the powerful heat. It was doing more than penetrating the flesh of our enemies it was erasing their very existence from this world. Their souls would never find rest. Never be granted access to the underworld.
Yet, for me, that still wasn’t punishment enough. Having their souls spend an eternity wandering aimlessly in the void between the living and the dead was too easy. I wanted them to suffer. I wanted them to feel the pain that I felt. The pain we
Eerie shrieks exploded from the blaze as each body was consumed. The essence of every dark vampire howled; their anchor to this world being devoured by the blazing blue heart of the flames. Within the silver smoke that swirled into the sky were flickers of light. They blinked for only a moment, twinkling like stars before being swallowed up by the gloomy cloak of night.
Was that all we were inside, a tiny spark of light that could be extinguished so easily? Is that what Baal had used his malevolent power to trap inside each stone? They were more than just stones made of dark magic. They were soul stones. I grasped the stones that lay hidden under my blouse and felt them warm to my touch as I slid my fingers across their smooth surfaces.
Maybe fire would set them free?
I took a step closer to the pyre and rolled the thoughts around in my mind. They were thick like molasses and I couldn’t decipher a clear path through them. I wanted to free the souls trapped inside, but I feared letting them go. I feared being without them after they’d saved my life.
“You’re burning hotter than the fire,” Arrick commented as he wrapped an arm around me, pulling me farther from the flames I’d so dangerously wandered close to. “I know you’re angry, Claire, but…”
“Don’t say it.”
I smeared the hot tears across my cheek and avoided his gaze. I knew he was worried about me. Heck, I was worried about me. I couldn’t get my anger under control, but did I really want to? There were more important things I should have been focusing on; like mourning our losses and rebuilding our lives, but those got lost in my thoughts; shadowed by an overwhelming urge to destroy my enemies. To kill them a million times over and tear the flesh from their bones.
Arrick looked up at the moon that spotlighted our gathering and sighed. “I
say it, Claire. I’ll say it a thousand times if I have to. Don’t let your rage consume you.”
I groaned and shrugged off his arm, focusing my gaze on the raging fire before me. Sparks popped and embers sizzled as the flames ravaged the bodies of the dark vampires inside it.
“I know you want revenge. We all do, but we can’t lose ourselves in the process. We’d risk becoming like our enemy, instead of destroying them.”
I agreed with Arrick. I really did, but I couldn’t let it go. Not tonight; it was too soon, and maybe not ever. I glanced away from the flames and cast my eyes around. The bonfire flickered and flashed across the faces of the vampires gathered around me. My friends, my loved ones, and vampires I didn’t even know, yet still ached for their loss. Tonight was just the first night of the mourning ritual, and it was almost more than I could bear. How would I ever make it through tomorrow? How would any of us?
Robin stood beside me, sheltered under her mother’s arm. We weren’t touching, but I could still feel the violent shuddering of her petite frame vibrating through the air. It rippled across my skin, cracking my hard exterior and creating a chasm of misery inside my heart. She didn’t deserve such pain. She was the kindest, sweetest soul I’d ever met, and to see her hurting so deeply seemed a crime against the goddess.
I let Arrick pull me back toward him, but not before I clutched Robin’s hand and squeezed. I didn’t feel strong, but whatever strength I did have I hoped I was lending it to her. My eyes crept upward, as I cast a silent prayer to Nyx. Surely she wouldn’t allow her children to suffer.
Someday the pain would have to end, and peace would return.
My nerves tingled, shaking me from my thoughts. I could feel someone watching me. Their penetrating scrutiny rattled me, and I looked across the bodies and flames to find Nicolae’s eyes locked on me. We’d thought him dead until mere hours before the pyre when he and Fox showed up at the palace. They said they’d chased down members of The Dark to the far corners of the region before seeking shelter in a nearby safe house. For some reason, a small part of me didn’t believe them. Maybe because I didn’t really trust anyone anymore; or maybe it was because Fox always seemed to rub me the wrong way. Vampires healed quickly, but we all looked paler than normal and several of our injuries had yet to mend themselves because we weren’t feeding. However, there was Fox, standing off to the side of the crowd looking no worse for wear. He didn’t even look like he was very upset. I suppose some handled grief differently, but when it came to Fox, nothing seemed right.
Mara had said it was part of the mourning process to not feed for six cycles of the moon. It was evident in all our faces. We were hungry, grieving and exhausted. The hunger inside me screamed for nourishment, but even though I was starving, it wasn’t that hard to ignore it. Human blood wasn’t what I was craving most. No, I was craving sustenance of another kind; and there was no way to satisfy that until Baal’s cold, dead body was lying before me.
My eyes held Nicolae’s until he finally looked away. There was pain in them, and even from across the inferno I could sense his grief. I could never read him before, but now it was almost too easy. Did he simply stop hiding his emotions, or had I grown more powerful? I guess it didn’t really matter. His agony was sincere, and though I thought I would revel in it, I actually felt pity for him. The man who had me kidnapped as a child and fed me nothing but lies still managed to lay claim to a small piece of my heart. A
small piece, but a piece nonetheless.
We stood there until the fire died down and the bodies turned to ash, leaving no sign of their existence in this world except for the scars on our hearts. They say time heals all wounds. Well, I had an eternity. We all did.
A lump formed in my throat as I watch the crowd disperse. The roar of the fire that had consumed the sounds of the night no longer covered the wails of the grieving. The sting of loss was much greater, and cut much deeper than when I was human. I’d lost my grandparents, or whom I thought were my grandparents, and I helped Liz through the death of her father. But back then, I believed we’d all be reunited again. Not now. Now we must face an eternity alone, an eternity separated from those we loved. That’s what lies ahead for us if we don’t stop Baal and his army of dark vampires. Infinite time with our suffering.
A new wave of loneliness washed over me when Robin released my hand to follow her mother back toward the palace. I watched her walk slowly away, her mother latched onto her arm like she was a lifeline. Edgar, her father, had been slain protecting Mara during the attack. The poor woman had to watch her mate die right before her eyes. I’d only known him a short time, but after those brief moments I’d spent with him, I had grown to love Edgar and his family.
“We should head inside, too. It will be dawn soon. I think we could all use some sleep.” Arrick kissed my forehead and pulled me beside him as I followed woodenly. The palace was a shell of its former beauty, but already there were massive tarps draped over entire wings, and scaffolds towering up the sides, like the bones of a skeleton. Nicolae wasn’t wasting any time with the repairs. But, even with new paint and new bricks, it would never be the same.
I was surprised when we’d finally made it to my room. I couldn’t recall any of the walk back. I guess my mind was too full to concentrate on anything else. My heart warmed as I watched Arrick pull the heavy drapes across my windows. It was the first warmth I’d felt in days, and I didn’t fight the small smile that tugged at the corners of my lips. I didn’t know what I’d do without him. I’d returned to the Noire region just a week ago on the cusp of death, and he’d been by my side ever since. Being my Blood Mate it was his duty, but it was more than that. We were more than that.
He’d done everything he could to help me recover and to make my being here more bearable. I fed from him until the fasting began, but he still offered when he sensed a wave of exhaustion or hunger wash over me. It was a hard offer to refuse. Never before had I tasted anything more delectable than his blood. Just the smell of it set my body alight with hunger and passion.
Even when the servants were too busy with reconstruction, he took it upon himself to repair my room. All the rubble and debris had been swept away, and everything was cleaned. It wasn’t quite what it used to be, but the effect was the same. Tears slid down my cheeks when he revealed his surprise. The part that really broke my heart, and mended it at the same time, was what he did with Louie. He gave the fur ball a bath, washing him as clean as a newborn kitten for the first time in ages. Louie hated every minute of it, as was evident by the scratches up and down Arrick’s arms, but I couldn’t have been happier in that moment.
As if sensing my thoughts, Louie meowed at my feet telling me it was time for bed. I scooped him up and sleepily dragged myself over to my mattress. The second my head hit the pillow, the urge to succumb to slumber tugged at my eyelids, but Arrick’s weight on the bed beside me had me popping them open again.
“What’s going to happen tomorrow?” I asked in a whisper before he had a chance to speak.
His face took on a faraway expression before he replied. “Tomorrow we honor our dead.”
“What happens when a vampire dies?” I wondered it before. The anti-vampire activists said we had no souls, but that obviously wasn’t true. Did we go to heaven like humans believed, or somewhere else?
When he finally brought his eyes back to mine, they were softer. “When a vampire dies, they are never truly gone. Our essence is still connected to our body after we pass. Some say that even in death we can visit our bodies and hear the prayers of the living.”
I didn’t like his answer. “So, our souls are trapped? Like a soul stone?”
“I was thinking about it, and that’s what they seem like to me. Souls trapped inside a prison.”
He considered what I said.
“No, I don’t think it’s like that. It’s believed that because of our powerful connection to emotions and the world around us, it can never be severed even in death, as long as our body remains in this world.”
That made sense. I definitely felt tethered to my body, like there was more holding me together than just skin and bones.