The Sage's Assessment
“Move!” Ruzha screamed as she kicked the doors to the cubiculum open. Mara went flying through in the same motion. The vixen was lifeless as her form rolled a few times before coming to a stop on her face.
Her whole body had gained several new wounds. Most of the gashes appeared to be from puncture wounds that had torn open. Ruzha was hardly a gentle courier. The young vixen was limp, but there were subtle tremors from shock and terror.
“Enow of thy whimpering!”
“Still thy voice, Ruzha,” the sage spoke up in a disappointed voice. His hood barely covering his dark eyes, narrowed in irritation at the redhead. His gaze shifted to Mara’s tremulous form and the mortal draped over Ruzha’s shoulder. He was still alive, so at least, the vixen hadn’t drained him dry. He sighed heavily, collecting his patience as he knelt beside Mara.
“We all understand how much thee loath disappointing our own mistress, but thee need not loose thy panic on the rest of us.”
“Fie!” The vixen flashed her fangs at the male now coddling the wreck of a vixen. “I do not panic, coward. I despise carrying ’round food which stinks. Thy precious Sun Dweller did prove to be just as depressed as I predicted, sage. Whither is thy most wondrous weapon anon?”
“Leave the mortal to mine own charge, if it be true he pesters thy nostrils so greatly.” The sage waved for some hooded vampires to come forward, taking the human off her hands.
“However, Ruzha, I shall have to speak to the countess of Mara’s condition. Thee did push beyond that lady current limits. The lady has only just begun a third decade. Prithee do not underestimate the heir’s power by one encounter.”
Ruzha glanced down at the shaking child. She was only in her twenties? No wonder she was so weak. Something in the crimson irises seemed familiar to the vixen. Drained and glazed, it was clear the little one was not with them in mind. She had only come out of that state twice so far. Just what had her majesty taken in, and why was she so special to bear the title of Heir to the Throne?
“I still do not see wherefore thee told me to bring the mortal unharmed. Do not bring discord to this castle, sage.” Ruzha glared at the hooded vampire. She did not trust him, but he was the Right Hand of Lady Eve. He could kill her at any moment, and the countess wouldn’t bat a lash in response.
“Thee wound me, vixen,” he replied, turning a blank expression toward her. “Thee question mine own loyalty at which hour it was I that did protect our majesty for a century, high-lone, as that lady wounds did heal from the first encounter with the Sun Dwellers. Thee doubt mine own motives at which hour these humble hands did brave slivers to carve the coffin behind us. Thee would threaten me witting the gorge between our strengths.”
Ruzha blinked as she watched his hands extend, parting his cloak. The black robes beneath appeared to be a void within. With Mara braced against his leg, it almost seemed as if he could engulf her inside. As Lady Eve’s eldest, he possessed power closest to hers. Some said his power was more terrifying than the countess’ shadows. His open palms made sweat grow on her spine, anxiety rooting itself in her chest.
“Nay…” She swallowed the lump in her throat, “I do not.”
“Valorous.” The sage grinned a small smile, pleased by the answer. “I would weep to bethink thee and I was at odds, Ruzha Jovanović.” He lowered his hands, closing his cloak once again.
“What of the weeping maid?” The vixen changed the subject. The mystic always gave her the creeps. “What is wrong with that lady? I gage I did not induce thus.”
“A mind in chaos…” The sage reached to touch the trembling shoulder. His eyes were unchanged, yet his expression soften with concern. “Bid me. Did thee cross anyone other than the mortal?”
“What does it matter?”
“Did thee or did thee not cross anyone thither?” His voice was irritated again, but his focus remained on Mara. “Is this too hard for thee to comprehend?”
“Thither was... a vampir… but he was not the prize. He slew many of the beasts thee gave me, but I dispatched him myself. He was nay ado for me.”
“Did he speak to Mara?”
The sage didn’t look up at her. He sensed a lie, but it sounded related to her pride more than Mara’s condition. He was more concerned with the young vixen’s eyes. They troubled him. What had happened to her?
“He did say a name. Mary.”
At the sound of that name, Mara twitched in a horrid jerk backward. The sage pulled her close, quickly. Ruzha gaped in surprise at the reaction. It was the name that had inflicted the injury. After laying stiff in the vampire’s arms, the vixen relaxed, returning to her tremulous state as before.
“I see anon…” The sage picked Mara off the stone floor, gingerly. There was a care in his effort that seemed affectionate, but Ruzha didn’t dare to question it. He finally looked up at the other vixen. “I shall see to Mara and the mortal. Do not feel the need to inform our own mistress of this. I shall report to that lady in thy stead.”
“Do not soil mine own name, sage.” The crimson lips stretched wide as Ruzha growled. “I did not fail mine own mistress! I would perish ere I would return defeated!” She pointed a finger at him, expressing her desperate desire to please her mistress.
“Oh, lief flower,” the sage grinned wickedly at her, making her gawk. “I would hardly say thee did fail. One goal was lost to us, but not e’er moo. On the contrary, thee did secure the goal shall see fruition, though thou art too numb of mind to grasp thus true end.”
Ruzha was too frightened to reply. She was too frightened to run either. What was all of this about? Why had they even gone to the Americas? What reason did the countess and sage have to obtain the Sun Dwellers, their greatest enemy? Something did not sit well with her, and she feared for her mistress’ safety through this. What she saw next was his thin lips move silently. She couldn’t make out what he had said, but she could feel a tingling growing through her skull. Shaking her head, she turned to leave without another word.
“An obedient wench,” the vampire said as he turned about. He walked over to the countess’ coffin, placing the unwell vixen inside. “Anon to fetch thee some blood for those wounds, mine own princess.”
When Mara came around, she saw Lady Eve, hovering over her. She was lying on her side on the edge of a coffin, like a cat on a fence. Mentally spent from the events of the evening, Mara didn’t try to understand what was going on around her. Why was she in a coffin? What was that strange smell around her? What was Lady Eve doing here? Where was she? It was all lost on her.
There was a gentle touch on her scalp. Were those fingers combing through her hair? Through the static buzz in her ears, a soft hum drifted over the deftness. It sounded like a lullaby a mother lulled to her baby. The look on Eve’s face was pure. She seemed so gentle, so caring, so good. A memory tried to surface of a mother from long ago, but a sting swelled within her temples at the attempt to recall. A soft moan escaped her at the sensation, for she couldn’t move her body. A tear fell from her right eye down to her ear.
“Forget...” Eve whispered down to the vixen. “Forget and suffer nay moo, our own sweet.” Mara could hear the voice, but it sounded as if there was some kind of filter, making it sound distant and airy.
“Forget the swordsman that did hurt thee. Forget that strange lodging cross the water.” Why should she forget that? The swordsman hadn’t hurt her. The pain panged deeper, making her want to cry aloud, but she was unable. “Forget... Forget... Forget...”
As the countess went back to her humming, Mara felt like she was fading away. Slowly, she was losing the feeling in her fingers and toes. It was creeping through her limbs gradually. At first, she was frightened. Her crimson eyes gaped wide at the ceiling, but as the sensation grew, she resigned herself to what would be. The headache faded away as she released the memories.
Michael’s double’s face blotted away. The events of the raid vanished into vapors. Even the vague memories of the mother drifted to the abyss Eve had placed before her. Her eyes began to close as slumber called to her.
“Valorous,” Eve cooed down to the drowsy vixen. “Rest our own precious one. Slumber and forget thy troubles. We shall at each moment taketh hence thy suffering, sweet babe. We art all thee needeth. We art all thee wanteth. Our line shall rule this forsaken plane together at last. Nothing shall e’er part us...” The countess leaned down to kiss the golden hair. She smelled so fresh and clean, as a rain shower washed the earth of all its filth. “Nothing shall e’er part us again...”
Again? What did she mean by that? As she pondered the question, one memory escaped the dark lady’s purge. Parted? Who had she been parted from? There was someone, long ago. Someone she had loved very much. She tried to remember who, but a dull throb blocked her passage. Just as she was about to give up trying, a name came to her. Parting her lips, she whispered hoarsely.
“Who is... Mary...?”