Vitania woke with the smell of hot iron teasing her senses, she sat up to see a steaming cup full of blood on the table beside her bed, along with some bread and meat. Staring at dinner for breakfast, she realized just how much she missed her granola bars and cereal. She ate her breakfast while getting dressed, before emerging from her tent.
The camp was busy with bustle as everyone was packing their things and collapsing tents, a few tents away from her, Vitania found Detalia and Tal standing beside a wagon covered in dark material with both the entrances blocked off.
“The other Vampire made himself a bed in there this morning.”
Vitania ignored the careless tone of Tal’s voice and went to the West side of the tent, opening the cover just enough to see Sycon sleeping away in the darkness, hands over his chest like the vampires out of stories.
“We should cover the black cloth with white, it will probably be less noticeable to other people and it will reflect the sun so Sycon doesn’t bake in there.”
Vitania jumped down and rounded the corner to see Elington walking towards them.
“My lady, the pack is waiting for your instructions.”
“Your instructions. You killed their Krawnex, their leader, which makes you their leader and they are waiting for words from you.”
Vitania rubbed the bridge of her nose and looked at the Elder Lycan staring at her, mumbling to herself she walked past him to stand in the middle of the pack and address the crowd.
“Alright listen up,” she let out a sigh, “I’m just as much of a fugitive as you are, and as your leader it is your duty to protect me and my crew. What I want you to do is set up small camps on any paths you can find that lead to the Mountains of Is, which is where we will be going. If anybody; Lycan, Vamp, Demon, tries to get to the mountains I want you to stop them by any means necessary, or at least stall them. The more time I have the better understood?”
They all just stared so she raised her voice, enunciating each world slowly.
“Do. You. Understand. Me.”
At that everyone nodded and took a step back at the shrillness of her voice.
“And make sure nobody breathes a word that we were here, if anyone asks you never saw any of us.”
She turned away and heard them scramble to move out, walking past him, she could feel Elingtons stare burning into her body.
“And me ma’am?”
“What about you? You are free to do whatever you want. If you want to leave you can leave, you are not tied to this pack anymore, I release you. And don’t call me ma’am.”
“What if I came with you?”
“Elington, its really nice that you would be willing to come along and as much as it would be super handy to have a medical professional with us, we already have acquired one more person than expected. If you packed us with some gear, bandages and things and maybe ran some techniques by us that would be helpful. But besides that we just have no room for anyone else. I’m sorry.”
“If a doctors kit is what you desire than I will make you one.”
Without even looking discouraged he quickly sauntered off to his tent.
Vitania felt bad giving orders but that was really all he was used to, and she tried to convince herself that she was doing him a favour by giving him something to do.
“What do we do about Sycon?”
Detalia flicked her ears and stared tentatively at the wagon.
“He is a normal Ardtrean Vampire. He can’t travel during the day. It is best if we let him sleep. He will be a good watchman during the night.”
“Or he will slit our throats. Or turn us in to the Viral.”
Tal had his arms crossed, a look of disgust on his face, ears pressed almost flat to his head.
“He won’t do any of that. You need to trust him.”
“Why should I?”
“Because I trust him.”
“Yeah because that makes me feel great.”
“Well it should. If I didn’t trust Detalia I would have killed her when I found her. Or I would have turned you both into my father. But I didn’t. I worked past something that had been bred into me to trust her. If I can do it, you can too. Besides there hasn’t been a war in Ardtrea in years and although he is bred to fight he’s never been in a war, you could probably beat him in a fight. Hell I could beat him a fight.”
Tal rolled his eyes and Detalia took his arm caressing it.
“Sycon jumped into a pack of rogue Lycans “trying to save me.” Do you really think he would have done that if he wanted to turn us in or see any of us killed?”
They were silent for quite some time, and eventually Tal turned away and started to pack more things in the spaces under the wagon. Vitania rubbed her temple some more, feeling a bruise starting from the pressure she had just put on there, was she getting stronger? She felt a brush on her arm and looked to see that Detalia had come to stand beside her.
“He doesn’t mean any harm, he’s just going by what he knows.”
“I know. But he should know that people, or creatures, can change. Just because we are taught one thing doesn’t mean we have to believe in it. He left his whole barbaric world,he needs to learn to open his mind that others can do the same.”
She looked over and saw Tal staring at them. Vitania knew that he could hear her but she didn’t care, she’d rather him over hear her than try to confront him. Regardless of Detalia, Tal was still bigger, older, and much stronger than she was. If he wanted his way he could probably find a way of getting it.
“I have a question.” Tal still had his arms crossed, mocking her.
“And what is that?”
“What exactly will pull this wagon?”
Damn, Vitania hadn’t thought of that. She knew there were creatures large enough that could pull the wagon, but most of them were wild and trying to train one in a matter of hours would probably be hopeless.
“That is where I come in.”
A large, rather dumb looking, although they were all kind of dumb looking, Lycan approached them. In his hand was a leash, and attached to that leash was an equally large, dumb looking animal. It was almost a cross between a dog and a turtle; that had a run in with a giant mace. It stood four feet tall when it was all fours, its fur was dark gray and scraggly like that of a dog that has been abused or left out in the rain. On its back was what looked like a giant turtles shell, with small spikes protruding everywhere, randomly, from it. Saliva dripped off the fangs that jutted out and covered its lower jaw.
At the site of it Detalia jumped behind Vitania, and Vitania cringed.
“What the hell is that thing?”
“It is a Lycor. Ferehar packs pet.”
“So it will pretty much make us a bigger target for the authorities, not really the best plan.”
“No. They scare everyone, they are only meant to kill. You are under our protection.”
He gave a low bow before hooking the Lycor up to the wagon, and walking away without another word or with enough time for Vitania to say thank you, even if she didn’t really mean it. Detalia gave a concerned look towards the Lycor but it paid no attention to her, it just sat in the dirt scratching behind its ears and snorting.
They gathered the last of any needed supplies including the doctors kit, rare meat and the respective amounts of blood, and were on their way by just before midday.
They probably looked like a scene out of an old western, all three of them sitting on the front of the wagon, being pulled slowly along the pathway, minus the horses of course. The Lycor trotted in front of them, moving them at a decent speed without throwing them from the trail. Its tail wagged and its tongue hung out. The creature brought Vitania’s mind back to the Minks and wondered where the little guy had gone, and if it had just forgot all about her. Then to her own pets, who she hoped were doing okay in her now abandoned home.
The three of them didn’t talk for a long while; Detalia rested on Tals shoulder while he held the reins, and Vitania watched as the scenery in front of her changed from dense forest, to less dense forest, to level plains and grasses. In the distance she could start to see the shadows of small peaks.
“Are those the Mountains?”
She turned to Tal who was trying to see over a sleeping Detalia. He gave a small nod after squinting, the action making Detalia’s head drop a little and waking her up.
“Hmm? What’s going on?”
Vitania pointed in front of her.
“Those are the Mountains of Is.”
Detalia also squinted.
“What is that at the bottom of them?”
Tal and Vitania searched the tree line surrounding the base of the mountain, and noticed what looked like black smoke starting to rise out of them.
“Now that looks like a forest fire.”
“There are other ways to the Mountains. We will just take a different route, avoid the fire.”
“Shouldn’t we try to help?”
“Because that’s a good idea. A fugitive, two illegal Lycans and a kidnapped Vitian officer just stopping to help citizens would raise some serious suspicion. The four of us being together is enough to make all of Ardtreas history books cringe, and the entire ecosystem crumble.”
“I really don’t think it’s that bad dear.”
Tal ignored Detalia’s remark, “besides, it looks like rain is on its way and if it is a fire the rain will extinguish it.”
The way he finished it was in such a way that the conversation was obviously over and alternatives were not up for discussion. Detalia looked at Vitania and she mimicked what Tal had just said, crossing her eyes and cocking her head. Detalia let out a small giggle and for a moment they weren’t on a mission to an ancient mountain, they were just on a road trip, maybe to some beach or a lake cottage. They both stifled their laughter when Tal shot them a dirty look, clearly not impressed with their immaturity.
They came to a cross in the road and instead of going straight which would have taken them right to the Mountains and the forest fire, they went right and took the alternative route.
Vitania had a sinking feeling starting to grow in her stomach as the Mountains, now covered in dark grey rain clouds, rounded closer and closer. Even though they were taking a different path, the smoke was always in front of them, blocking their path.
“Tal, are you seeing this?”
“The smoke, it’s still in front of us.”
The atmosphere started to change as the creepiness of the situation dawned on them, there was no way they would be able to avoid this blaze. Had it grown that much since they first saw it that it had taken over all the paths? As they got closer the black mass became more detailed, gaining more definition, and making it clear it wasn’t a forest fire at all, or any smoke of any kind Vitania had ever seen. It looked smooth, not chalky like the smoke that came from a fire. It almost looked like seaweed dancing in the wind, smooth and like it would feel wet if you ran your fingers through it.
The top of the swirling smoke disappeared behind the forest canopy, and it was clear it wasn’t just in the air, it had fanned out across the entire forest floor like a black fog. The air had started to change too, creating a breeze that was ice cold. When they suddenly heard a rustle in the eerie stillness in the back, it made them all jump. Vitania was quick to rip open the cover, exposing a half-naked Sycon stumbling to get dressed in the moving wagon, he looked up at her, his expression clearly embarrassed, although his cheeks lacked the color of blush.
Vitania didn’t say anything back but just stared, her eyes gazing over the body she didn’t think he had. He was still thin obviously, all Vampiress were, but he had unexpected muscle tone. A slight six pack and bulky arm muscles on display that she could picture being wrapped up in. The under armor Vampires wore looked like tight clothe but it was extremely tough in battle, and her eyes started to drift lower before Sycon let out a small cough. Feeling herself blush she avoided meeting his eyes and without saying anything, closed the sheet.
She turned around stared straight ahead, wishing she could stop the blushing because she knew Detalia and Tal were staring at her. She tried to change the subject as nonchalantly as possible.
“Sycon’s awake, and I think we should pull over. Try to figure out a game plan before getting any closer to whatever that thing is.”
She jumped off the wagon into the fog, it spiraling up around her knees, and started to walk along the path, slightly behind and away from the wagon, trying desperately to get her to cheeks to go back to a normal color.
It took a while for Tal to pull the wagon over but she didn’t mind everyone falling behind her step. She closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose and wished Sycon would just stay in the wagon so she didn’t have to face him after that embarrassing incident. Of course she wasn’t that lucky and looked behind her to see Tal informing a now very outside the wagon Sycon, of why they had stopped, everyone looking at the substance around their ankles.
Detalia watched Vitania re-join the group, still slightly pink in the face and avoiding all eye contact with Sycon who she could feel was looking at her standing beside him, arguing with Tal on how they should proceed.
“We really should continue on foot.”
“And leave all our supplies out in the open? Not a good idea Vampire.”
“We can make a quicker escape on foot than we could being pulled by that beast.” The Lycor snorted lazily at Sycon’s disbelief. “How about you and your woman stay here and guard the wagon and Vitania and I will go investigate the mass.”
Vitania tried to interject.
“Or you and Vitania stay here and Detalia and I go investigate.”
This time Detalia tried to speak over them.
“I really don’t think that’s a good idea hun-.”
“I’m surprised you want to leave me alone with all of your supplies, are you not worried I’ll set it one fire and alert the Vitian?”
“I feel safe knowing Vitania would be here too even though I never thought I’d use ‘safe’ in the same sentence talking about a Vampire.”
“I really don’t want to-.” Vitania’s tone was slightly irritated at the two mens conversation.
“You probably shouldn’t take Detalia, you can smell the inexperience on her.”
“I have some-.”
“She helped defeat a Merkel Demon back in my new world she isn’t entirely defenseless.”
“But she isn’t exactly an asset which is why Vitania should at least be the one going and who better to protect her but me.”
“While I agree I should go I really don’t need-.”
“Oh please, you would need protection from her the way you can’t stop staring at her I’m impressed you get anything done besides drooling.”
Vitania, both embarrassed and frustrated, with them, commanded their attention with her words.
“That. Is. Enough!”
Her shriek rang through the whole forest. Sycon with his fangs out and Tal with his fur raised both stopped and turned to see Vitania; flushed, black eyed and fangs out, staring at them. Her next words came out in a low hiss.
“Talesian, you need to back the hell down. You might be older than all of us but in this situation it does not make you our superior. Sycon, I do not need protection and definitely not from you.”
Detalia had shrank back a bit now, watching Vitania as she advanced on the arguing pair, the two of them shrinking back against the wagon.
“Both of you need to get a hold of yourself! Honestly! What do you think this is? It’s not just some hike up the god damn Mountain. We could be walking into something seriously dangerous and if you guys are just going to argue than neither Detalia or I can count on you two working together to help us or save us! You are both acting like children! Grow up! Both of you can stay with the wagon and Detalia and I will check out the black mass. At least then I’ll know I have someone I can count on!”
Both of them started to protest and Vitania lunged catching them off guard and grabbing them by the scruff of their clothes. With one jump she had the two of them both pinned to the side of the wagon hissing. Detalia ran up behind them and put her hand on Vitania’s shoulder.
“I think they get it now.”
Sycon looked both heart broken and scared, Tal looked pissed but impressed.
“Both of you will stay here, is that clear?”
Vitania let the two of them drop back to the ground, and her and Detalia rounded the wagon to open the back of the wagon and grabbed two hilts, each with daggers attached to them. The both had their own physical attributes, Vitania’s was a gift originally from her father with a deep blue and pewter handle, the actual dagger glimmering, begging to be used. Detalia was given Tals, an old Lyvian dagger, the old wooded handle desperately needed to be sanded down and re polished.
Detalia’s heart was racing as she kissed Tal good bye and followed a still steaming Vitania down the forest line, black fog swirling around her.
“I think you successfully scared the crap out of Sycon.”
Vitania ran her fingers through her hair.
“Yeah well, they both had it coming. Stupid egos and needing to be the alpha male, especially mammals”
“All the testosterone on top of the Vampire/Lycan genetics. So, do we have any kind of a plan?”
“I figured that was sort of a given.”
They walked in silence after that, Vitania giving her no indication as to what was ahead of them. Detalia took in her surroundings. She was noticing things like low branches that she could easily jump to, and nooks in the trees where she could blend in and hide. She saw that some of the trees were long with vines on them that could be used to tie up, trip, or possibly choke an enemy depending on how strong it was.
She shuddered a little at the thoughts going through her head, it wasn’t like her. Thinking such gruesome thoughts. But she knew if she didn’t start thinking like a warrior like Vitania did, she might not have a chance to walk through any kind of forest again.
The closer they got, the heavier the air became. It was almost like smog in a city, thick and chocking, making it hard to breathe. Vitania made a motion and jumped into a nearby tree. Detalia followed, landing with more grace than before on the branch beside Vitania. It was definitely easier to breathe higher up, opposite to most smoke attributes, and it made for a quicker route jumping from branch to branch covering more distance than being trapped on the ground.
The density of the forest started to break and opened to reveal a clearing, unfortunately an extremely unpleasant smell also met them, stinging the inside of Detalia’s nose. It was a mix of rotting, wet wood, and acid. It reminded her of when she found a dead mouse in her old apartment, smelling of decay and death. She wished right about now that she didn’t have the heightened senses that she did, it would make this trip a lot more tolerable, finally reaching the clearing her disgust at the smell was replaced with her being awestruck at the sight in front of her.
It looked like a nuclear bomb had gone off in the middle of the forest. Where the rest of the forest was lush and green, this clearing was just black. Upon a closer inspection they noticed that it wasn’t just that the trees had been just torched or burned, the trunks of the trees were physically bent and flattened creating a bowl like appearance in the clearing. The black fog didn’t go farther than the edge of the clearing, like this destruction bowl had invisible walls that the black fog couldn’t get past, so instead it rose upwards like steam. In the centre was the origin of the black fog, in the form of a huge funnel emerging from the ground. At the top of the cylinder the smoke changed form into that of a dress, thing but curvy. Inside the dress was a sight neither of them were prepared for; a hauntingly beautiful woman with pale gray skin. Her hair, the same color and texture as the smoke, flowed around her and towards the sky having no end. Her eyes weren’t eyes at all but large, black holes that looked like they could swallow you if you looked into them too long.
“Oh my god.” Detalia’s heart surprisingly sank, unsure of how she felt looking into the clearing.
“You have got to be kidding me.” Vitania’s tone was unimpressed.
In her thin hand, being held by his neck multiple feet above the ground, was Spiros.
“I know you met with them Faerie.”
The figures voice was shrill and sharp, resembling nails on a chalk board, making Detalia’s ears hurt and her fur stand on end.
“I don’t care what you think you know,” Spiros’s voice was scratchy due to his lack of air, but he managed to muster up enough energy to spit in her face. The figure was completely silent as she wiped the saliva from her cheek.
“You dare defy a Goddess?”
“You are not Goddess. Everyone knows your legend Demon, a Goddess that got greedy and wanted more. So much that she made a deal with the kind of the Underworld with the delusion he was going to give you ultimate powers. You’re nothing but a slave to the Underworlders.”
“How dare you!”
Her voice rang out over the forest. If Tal and Sycon didn’t hear her they would have both been surprised.
Spiros didn’t look phased in the least that the Demon in front of him was growing, enlarging herself well past the height of the trees. Detalia looked over to see Vitania’s reaction but couldn’t see even an inch in front of her face because the fog that had crawled up everywhere blocking whatever vision she could have. She whispered into the darkness.
The response was nothing like how she thought she would here coming from Vitania.
“Hey! Am I who you’re looking for?”
The Demon and Detalia both turned their attention towards the voice, Detalia shocked but the Demon pleased, to see Vitania standing with the black fog up to her knees staring defiantly at the woman. The Demon turned the rest of her body to face her, Spiros still in hand.
“Little Vampress, how brave of you to show yourself to someone like me.”
“My understanding is you’re not all that great so I don’t have a problem with stepping up to you at all.” She swung her hips out to one side and crossed her arms.
“Little girl, I don’t think you know who you are talking to.”
Vitania stared at the woman, her expression unchanged.
“I think you underestimate how much I actually care.”
The next thing happened so quick that if Detalia didn’t have Lycan sight she definitely would have missed it. Vitania jumped, but instead of jumping for a vital area on the Demon, she jumped for Spiros. In her hand was her Wick, seemingly coated in some sort opaque gel. Vitania lunged for the wrist of the hand that was holding Spiros, bringing her wick down to create a clean cut, causing Spiros to be free and herself to drop into the black fog behind the Demon.
A shriek of pain rang out causing Detalia to put her paws over her ears trying to drown out the intense high pitched noise. She tried to keep her eyes open to look for Vitania but everything was ringing so deafly around her that she was tearing up. She felt the branch she was on give and instinctively whipped out a blind arm, catching something wet with the back of her fore arm, then a hand on her wrist and eventually the hard bark of the tree underneath me.
The response was muffled and she opened her eyes to see Spiros rubbing his jaw.
“Oh my god, Spiros! I’m so sorry!”
“You’ve got quite the arm on you.”
Detalia got closer and examined his jaw, making sure she didn’t do any real damage, she noticed he shifted when her paw grazed his bone.
“I’m fine, it’s okay.”
She looked up and locked eyes with his. She found them so entrancing; they were a different shade of blue every time she looked at them, it was almost as if he changed them at will just to seem more mysterious. He was looking back at her too, straight into her soul it felt like, and she thought she saw the blue flash bright just a little.
Realizing her hand was still placed on his jaw, she blushed and quickly drew back.
“Glad I didn’t hurt you that would have been tragic.”
She immediately turned her attention back to the clearing to avoid her blushing being seen and Spiros opened his mouth to reply; but changed his mind and turned to watch the spectacle Vitania was putting on.
“You incisive little worm!”
The Demon was still holding her wrist and twirling, scanning the fog looking for Vitania.
“And you’re a bitch.” Vitania’s voice came out somewhere to the left where they saw a flash of light and the Demon faltered and yelled, throwing her hand down beside her ankle, smacking the ground around it hoping to squish Vitania. She faltered again, grabbing at her other ankle this time. Vitania was using the fog to her advantage to damage the Demon, every time she did something there was a flash from under the fog like the way lightning struck during a storm off in the distance. The Demon was yelling and cursing in a language Detalia didn’t understand.
The Demon stopped suddenly and watched the fog around her settle. Vitania couldn’t see that she had stopped moving so she kept running, making sure not to stay in the same place for too long as a defensive strategy, which is where she made the mistake. The Demon smiled and brought her hand down directly in front of her.
Detalia was shrieking from the trees not knowing if Vitania would be able to hear her or not. The Demon was holding some of the black smoke in her hand, and brought it down on top of where the smoke was moving around Vitania. What nobody had expected was Vitania to jump towards the Demon, bringing the Wick up to meet the black mass just as the demon hand was being brought down towards her. When they collided, the Wick didn’t go through the mass or the hand, and the demon never got her hands on Vitania. They met in the air and stayed there for what seemed like forever and no time at all at the same time, before an electrifying blue light exploded between them.
It created such a powerful wave, it levelled more of the forest, including the tree that Spiros and Detalia were perched in watching the battle. Neither of them had time to jump before they were thrown through the air. Detalia tried to keep her eyes open to look for something to grab onto or to find a safe way to land, but instead her vision was blocked by Spiros’s body, his strong hands around her, trying to slow their fall with the beat of his wings. They hit the ground Spiros first and rolled a little, his arms and wings still wrapped around her protecting her. When they had stopped, Detalia was on the ground beneath him, staring up into his face. She knew she was blushing, and knowing she couldn’t escape this time made her blush even worse. Even if Spiros couldn’t see it through her fur, he could most definitely feel how fast her heart was beating the way his chest was pressed hard against her. Her eyes darted past him only for a split second to see a tree falling towards them.
Without thinking Detalia changed and flipped Spiros onto his back, bracing herself as the tree crashed down. She let out a howl as she felt her spine and ribs start to crack under the pressure from the trunk. She heard thumping and at first she thought it was her own heart but when she looked up, she saw Tal and Sycon running towards them. Tal had changed and lunged for the side of the tree trunk shoulder first, knocking it off Detalia’s back but scratching her in the process. She changed back and fell beside Spiros.
Through blurry vision she could see Tals paws around Spiros’s throat. She couldn’t yell, but she kicked out her leg and caught Tal in the ankle. When he looked at her she managed to shake her head and he threw Spiros to the side. Sycon came beside Detalia.
Detalia chocked on the words as Sycon ran off, just before she passed out, Tal picking her up and carrying her back to the wagon was the last thing she saw.
Vitania’s ears were ringing, and she could feel a warm spot on the back of her head which could only mean she hit a tree not hard enough to knock it down, but hard enough to bleed. She couldn’t feel her body and when she tried to open her eyes they stung. She tried to concentrate on moving her fingers, opening her eyes, anything, she knew she couldn’t pass out. Where was Detalia and the Faerie she just rescued? Why weren’t they coming to help her? The only thing she could recognize was that the smell of Death had disappeared, and seeing as she was still alive that meant the Demon had to be gone. She cringed as she heard more noise in her ears that made her head pound. It was getting louder, and she desperately wished it would stop.
Sycon’s voice pierced her ears with both a sweet and terrible tone. She had to yell, had to do something. He had to find her.
“Vitania where are you?”
She opened her mouth but all that came out was sputters of blood causing her to convulse and fall to the side of the tree she had crashed into. She felt the ground vibrating beneath her the way she hadn’t before and then hands around her.
“Oh God oh God oh God. You’ll be okay. I promise you’ll be okay. Just stay with me okay. Dammit! Okay here we go.”
She felt Sycon lift her up and right about now she was thankful for all the Vampire senses and strength this boy had.
“Stay with me Vitania. Say something please!”
When she tried she coughed up more blood.
“Okay don’t say anything it’s okay just breathe, we’re almost at the wagon.”
She could feel his muscles contract with every movement. She took as deep a breath in as she could and managed to get out: “Faer-ie”
She felt him slow down and pace backwards a bit, his neck craning from side to side.
“You! Faerie, come on!”
Next, Vitania heard Spiros inhale a sharp breath which he probably immediately regretted, and then ask “Oh my, is she--.”
“She’s not dead but she asked for you so you don’t get to leave until she is conscious.”
She felt him running and heard Tals voice in the distance.
“What is he doing here? Detalia almost died trying to save him! He is not accompanying us.”
Sycon hissed so loud it made Vitania cringe into his chest. He curled his body and held her closer.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
“Spiros. Stays.” It came out between coughs.
“You have got to be kidding me.” She could hear the far off unenthused tone in Tals voice.
“He stays. Now get out of the way Taliesin.”
Vitania felt Sycon move past the flaps of the wagon and put her down gently on cushions and clothes, sensing Detalia cringe and move beside her. At least she knew everyone was safe. She heard Sycon telling her she was going to be okay, and holding her hand, before everything went blissfully dark.