Michael opened his eyes slowly. Glancing around him, it was apparent that he was in his bed. He must have been taken to his room after the awakening. What had happened there, he couldn’t remember everything. His head felt heavy as he sat up, trying to pull his memory back together. That was when he remembered the lid of Lady Eve’s coffin flying off into the gathered mass.
He had seen within the casket. The eyes of the Countess of Darkness were wide but distant. She had reached up, trying to find something as she stared straight ahead at the ceiling. He remembered her pale, slender hand reaching for his chest and the pain that followed it.
Michael reached up to run his hand against his shirt. She had touched him to see if he was still hers, to make sure he had not somehow broken her hold in her century-long slumber. Perhaps she was trying to remind him of the penalty for attempting to defy her.
The vampire looked down at his chest to pull it open, staring blankly at the flesh beneath. As much as he was able to, his eyes took in the sight of the scar that ran the length of his sternum. Memories struck him like a blow from a club to the head, yet he did not flinch. So many memories he did not wish to recall. If he could shed tears, he would have wept at the sight.
He went to dress in fresh clothes. He wondered how long he had been asleep. Observing the castle’s actions, it would appear that sunrise would be upon them within the hour. He decided to try finding Mara before that. He had told the sage of his concerns about Mara and the awakening, but since he had collapsed, he had no way of knowing what had transpired. He could no longer see him without permission now, so it was left to him to find his pupil.
He was well aware of the history of the Sun Dwellers. He did not want Mara to fall to their fate. He asked several servants in the halls if they were aware of the vixen’s whereabouts, but none had seen her that evening. He found she had not visited the training room at all either. He was at a loss, slumping against a wall to think.
From where he stood in the empty hall, his amber eyes stared into nothing. If he didn’t know any better, he would say he was feeling worried, but he recalled the sage’s words of how he did not know emotion. It was merely his thoughts muddling that deceived him into believing he was feeling. He ran a gloved hand against his scalp. He just had to uncloud his mind, and he would be able to think clearly, objectively. Closing his eyes, he began to think of a past not too long ago.
Mara had been such a timid child. Tears would come to her eyes whenever she saw fangs or naked swords. That had been why he trained her to use a sword, so she would find strength in what she feared. Despite the hellion she had become, he could still recall how she would cling onto his leg whenever they were in the presence of someone else. It left a warm feeling in his chest.
“Whither have thee gone... mine own little Mara?” Michael whispered. He had always been able to find her. Knowing her the best of all, he had a sense for locating her whenever she ran off somewhere. In that line of thought, he wondered where she would go if he were gone. As much as she hated being isolated, she would gravitate to someone...
His eyes shot open as he pushed off the wall to fly through the halls without a care for who might be in his path. Sunrise was coming. He could feel it in his chest, and he ground his fangs for not realizing the answer sooner. He came to the double doors of the throne room, forcing them open.
He was not out of breath from the sudden change of pace, but his eyes did gape slightly at the sight of the Countess Eve, seated on her lounging throne. At her heels, sitting on the steps like a lioness at her mistress’ call, Mara smiled back widely at him.
“We seeth thee hast finally woken, Michael,” Eve spoke in her fluid voice. “Doth thee seeth, Mara? Didst we not bid thee he would cometh to us?”
She stroked Mara’s blonde crown as she spoke, producing a giggle from the vixen. Michael felt a weight come crashing down on his back. The last of his memory of the awakening came to him. The sage had told him he would need all of his strength from now on, for as the vision faded in the vampire’s eyes, he had made certain he could see Mara stand up and turn toward the risen countess. Eve had taken her cheeks in her hands and kissed her just as darkness took him.
“Yes! You were right, Lady Eve!” Mara giggled like a wicked child. Nestling her head against the countess’ hand, she purred, “I thought he was going to sleep through the day since the sun is coming! Silly Michael! Hehehe!”
Michael knew Mara could act rather sinisterly when she wanted to stir up trouble, but this was a new level of which he had never seen from her. This only confirmed what he had seen at the awakening. The countess had kissed Mara, an act that he had witnessed before, and it meant that she was now under the suggestion of his mistress. Something to do with drinking blood from the lips without giving any in return. It was an old method not meant for feeding. The sage had told him that Mara would not fall to the countess against her will though, so he hoped that things would not become much worse. If they did, the Mara Black he knew would be lost forever.
“Day is upon us, Michael,” Eve said in a compassionate tone. Her face was maternal and gentle as she addressed him. “Thee shouldst rest. Mara hast proven herself favorable enow to maintain affairs while we slumber.”
“Affairs?” Michael inquired placidly. It was a harmless question, but it carried more weight than it appeared to. Was she making Mara head of the castle as a whole, or did the countess mean to make her second to herself? Why had the ruler even bothered to ensnare Mara in the first place? She was a Sun Dweller. What was she planning to do with her?
“Rest anon, Michael,” Eve said in a more commanding tone. Her genteel smile seemed to warp into something wicked in his mind, though she had not changed her actual expression at all.
“Yes! Go to sleep, Michael! Shoo! Shoo!” Mara giggled loudly, kicking her feet in the air and pointing her toes toward the door. She was grinning like a child as she laughed. It concerned Michael greatly to see the unruly vixen become such an imp.
The vampire did not want to defy the countess, not now at least. However, Mara’s unsettling behavior left him conflicted between the orders and his oaths. His intuition told him this did not bode well for the future, but his trained instincts warned him not to act just yet. He bowed low to both vixens as he walked backward. He drew the double doors back without a word, closing them with his exit. When the echo of the shut doors quieted, a thought struck him. If he was to keep his oath to protect Mara, could he defy his mistress to secure his charge’s safety? Uncertainty began to settle in, and he was unsure what to do next.
“Ruzha,” Eve spoke with authority and grace once Michael had left, “enter our own presence. We are pleased to see thee once moo.”
“It is mine own honor to behold thee again, mine own mistress, Lady Eve,” a seductive Romanian accent echoed from the shadows of the hall.
Mara looked up at the sound of spurs, clicking on stone. A tall, slimming figure emerged from the shadowed corner of the throne room. Thigh-high boots clung to the slender, athletic legs, ending with gleaming spurs and long heels cut down to points. The black pants that were barely visible between the boots and the black and crimson corset left little to the imagination on how the vixen looked beneath. Thick, red hair flowed freely from her head to her upper thighs, framing her attractive face with two crimson irises gazing back sensually. An elegant, gothic, black brocade coat draped behind her, showing off the saber at her hip. It looked like Michael’s.
“If it be true, I may, mine own mistress appears lovelier than at which hour we last met,” the vixen said with a smile, touching her chest as she bowed low. “Was yond very much Michael? He has not changed, but the same could be said of...” She dropped the comment as her heart skipped a beat. “Mine own saber is at thy hest as at each moment, mine own mistress.”
“Thy tongue is as sweet as e’er, Ruzha,” Eve said with a light laugh. She knew the vixen longed to please her. “May we presenteth our heiress, Mara. We would asketh thee to adhere to that lady words, for we hast bequeathed our affairs of the day upon that lady, henceforth. We hast foreseen a visitor arriving, a troublesome one.”
“By thy hest, mine own mistress,” Ruzha replied with less enthusiasm. She did not take kindly to taking orders from anyone but the countess, but she was not fool enough to disobey. Her eyes diverted to the vixen at Eve’s feet. She narrowed her eyes. She would test her merit the next night. She did not bow to anyone she did not respect. With that, she retired, feeling the pull of the sun.
“How would you like me to greet our guest, Lady Eve?” Mara asked with bright eyes. She giggled with excitement. She was so giddy she couldn’t help herself. She didn’t even know what she was so happy about, but she didn’t care. It felt so good to not have a care in the world. It was less stressful to just laugh everything away.
“Cometh what may, our own little Mara,” Eve said, cupping the soft cheeks in her fingertips, “Doth not slay those folk.”
“Hehehe! As you wish, mistress!” Mara kicked her feet in the air before jumping down to the floor. “I’ll just play with them for a bit then.” She grinned as the glow of the sun peeked over the horizon.