Moans and cries echoed through the death-filled forest. Any that had survived the massacre had fled by this point, all but one.
A young woman staggered through the dead bodies that were ominously drained of blood. Some had their eyes open staring into the sky, though not seeing. Lex’s throat tightened with tears seeing a few familiar faces, the huntress crouching to close the eyes of her peers she was once close with. She didn’t have the time to go through and shut the eyelids of every fallen warrior though she wished she could.
She was tired of crying. It wasn’t going to get her anywhere, except possibly killed.
Lex straightened up brushing a few strands of hair out of her face, the hair matted together with blood. She was desensitized by this point, instead scanning the area before moving forward. She knew the way back to the Capital, finding a familiar path that she had walked many times several moons ago. Ironically enough, it was the same path which she had camped above that got her in this situation in the first place.
Walking away was harder than she thought it would be, but moving forward was essential.
In the distance, she heard faint sounds of hooves galloping and her eyes widened. She quickly pushed herself through a thick brush, the sharp twigs scratching her in unpleasant places as she ducked to hide.
Shit, I don’t even have my weapons, she thought, cursing. Her fear of being recaptured made her frantic for few moments, her heart pounding and her throat beginning to close.
When the group of vampires riding on their horses slowed down near her, Lex ground her teeth down in anticipation. Silencers had arrived to the scene of the massacre.
Wait, a little voice in her head stopped her. She held her breath when the horses began to trot, laying flat under a bush. The foliage was falling, but it was still thick enough for her to remain mostly hidden. Unless, she thought, I’m willingly found.
I need to get back to the Capital anyway. This will get me straight there guaranteed, the realization dawned on her. Lex’s hunter instincts fought this decision, but she knew that it was the best shot.
The men that rode the horses scanned the area and Lex watched as one jumped down from his mount, crouching near a body that was half under a bush. It was lying in a pool of its blood, the corpse mangled from its attacker. A snap resonated in the air and a chilling last cry echoed.
They were still alive, she thought as her stomach flipped. She squeezed her eyes shut, shuddering as she swallowed bile back. More of the men moved to dismount, their thick boots crunching the leaves.
“Check for more bodies.” A man spoke behind Lex. She peeked through the bushes, trying to connect the voice with the vampire. The soldier nudged his horse forward and Lex tried to come up with a plan to get her captured and not killed before the party moved too far in front of her. The last soldier behind the caravan stopped his horse, turning his head as he scanned the bushes. His eyes landed over by Lex.
The vampire looked familiar and her memory flashed back to when she had seen Alaric speaking to him, both with a sense of urgency. Before the soldier had left, Alaric clapped him fondly over the shoulder.
Great, Lex thought. At least this is convenient for one of his friends to find me. She racked her brain for a name to put to the face ultimately unsuccessful.
She wanted to scoot away as he got closer to her bush, but she remained still, forcing her limbs to not tremble. Most of the man’s face was covered through the brush, the sight of his boots hitting the ground near the hooves showing his proximity.
When Lex didn’t immediately move, she heard him huff in annoyance.
“Come out and I won’t immediately kill you.” Lex rolled her eyes and rubbed her temples with two fingers. How convincing. Slowly, she pulled herself from underneath the bush, the branches leaving shallow scratches on exposed skin. The cuts stung from the cold air.
“I thought I smelled you right,” the man chuckled, his eyes lighting up to Lex’s surprise. Hers narrowed, and she stepped back, crossing her arms over her chest. “You’re Alaric’s,” the man clarified. At once, he did a quick scan over her, noting the marks from the bush and searching for any obvious injury.
“Where is he?” she asked instead of acknowledging that he was right.
The man shrugged as he assessed her in a guarded manner, his eyes narrowing slightly.
“He’s not anywhere near the battlefield if that’s what you’re asking. He’s long since been brought back to the Capital,” he explained after a second of deliberation. Lex noticed that his back hand was resting on the hilt of his sword, the tiger sigil of the Silver family glinting ominously back at her.
Lex deflated. He’s back at the Capital, she thought in relief when she heard the news. A piece of her had been concerned that he had been hurt in the fray of the battle. It had been last minute but it wasn’t unexpected; Grayson had kidnapped the crowned prince for crying out loud. If that didn’t scream war, Lex didn’t know what would. Her throat constricted when Grayson popped back into her head and she swallowed the tightness away, blinking rapidly.
When she looked down at her hands she saw the dried blood that was caked on her fingers and palms. She frantically looked in back up in another direction, feeling suddenly overwhelmed. She stepped back, her eyes darting around wildly and the vampire in front of her immediately reacted.
The soldier sprung forward as soon as her foot had moved. He tackled her to the ground quickly, his hands twisting an arm behind her back to keep her in his control. Lex pulled forward trying to twist out of his grasp and she hissed when he applied pressure.
“Ah, ah,” he crooned. “Don’t fight; I just need you to come back with me to the Capital.”
“Fuck you,” she cursed, regretting twisting so much as pain ran up her arm.
“That’s not so nice,” he scolded, like a parent would. He lifted her up with ease, and she flailed when her feet didn’t feel the ground. In consuming strides, the vampire reached his mount, a large dark bay mare. The doe-like eyes watched with slight unease, but didn’t spook from the flailing huntress. “If you keep struggling I will knock you unconscious,” he threatened when Lex resisted getting on top of the horse.
Her ears rung as her struggling slowed down, her heart pounding so hard she thought it would pop out of her chest. The vampire moved her arms so that her wrists were behind her back, securing a rope around them and tying it into a knot. He lifted her up again with ease and settled her into the saddle, swinging himself up into the seat behind her.
“Are you calm now?” he asked, incredulously. His chest made her back vibrate as he spoke. After a moment Lex nodded once, forcing herself to settle against the vampire. Now that she was settled, her panic began to fade and she trembled from the mental exhaustion. Even if she did want to fight, she didn’t know if she would have it in her. Every muscle in her body protested against her allowing herself to be recaptured, so much so that Lex thought she would be sick.
It’s for the hunters. I have to. For Gray, she chanted mentally.
“I’m Calisto,” the soldier introduced. “I figured it may calm you to know that I am one of Alaric’s good friends. Sorry for being so rough tackling you.” His apology almost made her swivel around to see what kind of vampire this guy was.
“Why are you apologizing?” she asked after finding her voice.
“Because you look like death. And that’s coming from a vampire.” His offhand remark caused a bubble of hysterical laughter to come spilling out. He stiffened against her, but he relaxed when he realized she was just laughing quietly.
“Uh, yeah. Fighting isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” she said, clearing her throat. I’ve got to be some kind of delusional to be laughing like this, Lex thought, bowing her head a fraction.
Her laughter died off after a moment and the swaying of the mare soothed her. She wasn’t used to riding on horses though she wasn’t afraid of falling off of one. Anyways, Calisto looks like he has control of the horse so why should I worry about it? She thought. Calisto nudged the horse into a faster gait, the trees blurring past them as the mare picked up speed. They passed more patrols, some giving the two odd looks as they cantered away from the battlefield where it was apparent that more help was needed.
Lex ducked her head, trying to keep her hair from blowing away from her face as they passed other groups, attempting to have her identity remain unknown. The less attention she attracted the better. Between her lashes she noticed that she had caught the eye of a few vampires here and there. She swallowed thickly, hoping their curiosity would divert elsewhere, preferably on something other than her.
Calisto thankfully didn’t stop to entertain anyone, the worn path winding through the forest until they reached the break before the Capital, the thick walls surrounding the city harsh against the horizon, the mountains towering further beyond in the distance. They slowed down as they got closer, the gates looming above them. Heads peered over the thick slabs of the wall, looking down at the soldier and the bloodied girl he had on his mount. Dark eyes flashed with greed and Lex decided to keep her gaze straight ahead, ignoring her curiosity as a thrill of fear ran up her spine.
God, they’re everywhere, she thought. The heads continued to pop over the top of the wall, appearing like an infestation. Every pair of eyes had one thing in common - hunger.
“Greetings,” Calisto said, stopping his mare as two guards stepped out from their post. “I come from the north woods, where the battle has been contained. I am returning something that Prince Alaric had misplaced in the fray.” He gestured to Lex and she shrank down, hating that she was sitting atop a pedestal of a horse.
“I’m sure he would want it back,” a guard purred. Lex shuddered under his hungry stare. They don’t even blink around here, she grimaced. “Proceed.”
Calisto kicked the mare forward, the jolt sending Lex flying back against Calisto’s chest as they lunged forward. The buildings inside of the Capital were tall, gray and dull. They were nice of course, with thinly trimmed vines that grew up the sides of the homes that were now a dead brown from the oncoming winter. The windows were spotless, though no light shone through. Instead, the windows were covered on the inside by thick black curtains. If there was life on the other side, Lex wouldn’t have known.
Street lamps were lit with a blue flame, the pale orbs acting as a bubble of the sky that hadn’t been blue in months. The overcast clouds made the lamps brighter. Electricity kept the lights burning always, giving the false illusion that there was somehow a blue sky in the flames.
The horse trotted down the roads and Lex missed the trees as the gray of the Capital surrounded them. Calisto navigated the streets with ease, winding around the pedestrians. Most humans, Lex noticed, were accompanying vampires with their heads down and their necks mottled red.
What an awful existence, she thought.
Too soon for her liking, they pulled up to the outside of the main castle. The Silver family home was in the heart of the Capital, surrounded by tall hedges that reach far beyond the tops of the iron-wrought gates. The tops of the gates were a polished dark wood, acting as a barrier to the outside. Guards stood outside the property but they moved to the side when they noticed Calisto. Lex didn’t miss the glares they shot her way as they rode past, the horse’s gait never slowing.
The outside buildings of the Silver’s home were used for guest purposes, used to host important figures of the society that wanted to seek counsel from the King. Lex noticed a few pairs of noble vampires regard them disdainfully, some baring their fangs at her.
“Alaric should be up,” Calisto said when he pulled his mare up to the stables. The abrupt stop made Lex queasy and when he helped her off of the horse she swayed on her feet. He kept his hand securely on her shoulder, despite her wrists being bound together. A stable boy rushed forward and took the reins of the horse without being beckoned. His neck was purple.
“He’ll be happy to see you.”
“I bet,” Lex swallowed, not sure if his comment was meant to be taken as a threat or not. Time to find out I suppose, she mused nervously as he lead her into the west entrance, their destination being its tower where the vampire prince lived.
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