Chapter 1 ~ Where's Waldo
Panting, dropping the slippy, blood covered knife, the red haze slowly disappeared from my vision. I pushed myself to my feet, sure that this Fallen would never get up again. I'd hacked it into so many pieces that even if I hadn't decapitated and thoroughly staked it, there would be no healing.
"Feel better now?" Kincaid asked from where he leaned against the wall of the upscale Hotel.
"You should have lead it into a quieter part of the city. There's too many humans crawling around this place," he admonished. "And you've made it harder to clean up by mashing it into the ground."
My gaze flicked towards the bright lights on the other side of the alley. I could hear the buzz of voices and music but I wasn't concerned about being spotted. The only thing crawling around this side of the hotel was rats. Maybe I had taken it a little far, maybe I'd let myself get lost to bloodlust, but it was the only way to vent my growing frustrations.
Kincaid's constant scolding was beginning to get to me as well. Nothing I did seemed good enough for him. "If you don't like the way I hunt, you can do it yourself."
We both knew he was more than happy to let me get my hands dirty as he dialled whoever it was that cleaned up my mess. I'd let my anger and frustration get the better if me tonight, I would admit that. What was left of the body of the Fallen would be impossible to recognise, and that was the excuse I'd use for what I'd done. Disgust began to creep in.
It was the same cycle most nights for the last few weeks while the old castle style mansion Zena had procured for us filled up with vampires; I'd leave with Kincaid, hunt down any Fallen or other creature of the night causing havoc, release my rage, then feel guilty for killing and return in a sour mood. Even I was beginning to wonder why I kept doing it, but it was a distraction.
"We should be getting back. You have duties."
"There's still enough time before sunrise to hunt one more down," I argued, picking my blade back up and wiping it on my ruined jeans.
Kincaid sighed heavily, pushing himself from the wall to fix me with his famous, golden glare. "What if there is nothing left to hunt, Shylah. We've killed many Fallen now. This isn't the way to deal with your annoyance about losing track of Airell and we're not going to find him here. He's long left the country."
"There's always something to hunt," I replied stiffly.
"You can come with me, or you can go back," I stated, waiting for his decision, already scenting the air for a trail to follow, to distract me.
I felt like I had been playing a giant game of Where's Waldo, except Waldo was an ancient vampire, and losing the game could mean the end of the world as we knew it.
Catching the scent of blood in the air, I jumped and grabbed the hanging ladder of the Hotel fire escape. Climbing quickly, the clatter of Kincaid following me met my ears. For all he argued, he always followed me. I wasn't sure whether Atanas had ordered him to or if he simply worried about leaving me on my own. His exterior may be hard, but I was beginning to see that he felt more than he let on, he was loyal and caring in his own way.
Grunting, I pulled myself over the edge of the roof, brushing grit from my skin.
The city of Edinburgh sprawled out before me, loud and glowing orange in the dark. The sun was beginning to rise, lighting the horizon in pale blue. Kincaid stepped up behind me, his agitation palpable as he caught sight of the sun. The scent I'd caught disappeared and my shoulders slumped. He didn't rush me, letting me stand glaring at the sun until I knew we had to turn for home.
"There's always tomorrow night," he said, awkwardly patting my shoulder.
"I have to play Queen tomorrow night," I muttered, turning my back to the lightening sky and letting Kincaid lead the way home. "The stupid ball is in two days and Zena wants to take tomorrow to give me one last lesson."
Kincaid grunted. He didn't like how many strangers would be in the very heart of our home, but he at least understood duty so kept quiet. I voiced my dislike of it for all to hear, and I knew others were thinking it too but nobody else was brave enough to talk against their Kings plans.
Turning in the direction of home, I raised an eyebrow at the way Kincaid was swinging his arms. He gave me a competitive grin over his shoulder. "Do you think you can keep up?"
I laughed, bouncing on the balls of my feet, looking forward to burning off the last of my nervous energy and nodded. He bolted forward a second before I did, racing towards the edge of the rooftop. We jumped as one, wind rushing past as we sprang through the air. My boots hit the next roof and I never missed a step, my grin growing. We raced each other across the top of the city, a blur of shadow to anyone who saw us.
Kincaid was faster than I thought he'd be, giving me a good run for my money but I was determined to win. Eventually the rooftops were spread too wide apart as we got closer to the mansion and I stepped off the next roof, whistling towards the ground. It was exhilarating, the way my body fell freely until I hit the ground with a thud.
Kincaid landed next to me a moment later.
Slowly I rose, loving the way my muscles burned with exertion. Walking felt almost painfully slow now but I slowed further when the mansion came into view. Zena had made sure to pick a place a little out of the way from the bustling capital city, giving us privacy. Ivy climbed the red brick walls and my boots crunched along the pebbled drive. It was definitely fit for royalty.
Gideon stood guard outside, smiling when he saw me.
"He's in a bad mood," he called out, pushing the door open for us.
I sighed. I knew he would be. Atanas hated that I went out every night, shirking my duties as Queen, putting myself in danger. The stress losing Airell and trying to make good with the neighbouring Wulver pack and coven of witches was taking its toll. He'd done his best to assure them no harm would come to any of them, not under his rule, but Airell had caused a lot of damage to our ties with the rest of the supernatural community. It would take time to build trust again.
"When is he in a good mood?" I asked Gideon, slipping past him and inside.
Gideon's laughter followed me in and I avoided eye contact with the vampires that lingered around the foyer. A few mumbled greetings, bowing their heads in respect that I wasn't used to yet. It made me uncomfortable, but I did my best not to let them know that. I couldn't let them sniff out any weakness in me.
"Good luck," Kincaid chuckled, heading off towards the group of vampires that smiled when he approached them.
Jealousy rose. Kincaid had what Atanas and Padraig had, that ability to gain respect and friends so easily, None of the vampires smiled at me like that, I wasn't invited to the clubs, or for drinks at the bar the mansion boasted of having in not only the main hall, but in one of the rooms beside the stairs as well. I was given a wide berth, and I knew that my attitude was partially to blame. I wasn't winning any 'most friendly and approachable' awards. Pushing my green monster away, I jogged up the stairs until I reached the top floor where Atanas and I had taken residence. My hand hesitated on the handle and I could hear Atanas moving about inside. He'd know I was here, he would sense my presence, but he didn't come to open the door. The bond between us that bound us as mates had grown stronger, singing now that we were so close.
"Are you going to come in?" Atanas voice asked, muffled through the door.
I pushed in, spotting him by the desk beside the massive, ornate fireplace. He was shuffling through a mix of paper and parchment, his gaze meeting mine. His eyes widened as he took in the state of me.
"I'm not hurt," I mumbled as I shut the door, dropping my blade on the small table.
"It's daylight. You should have been back hours ago," he grumbled, standing.
I let him check me over, his fingers brushing over the healing scratch on my cheek. I flinched away and he sighed again, stepping back. Why were things so strained between us? Shifting on my feet, i rubbed at the crsuted blood all over my hands.
"It took longer to find this one. It was in the city centre, Atanas. They're getting more brazen, spreading out. We haven't managed to contain them, we need to keep an eye on the news."
He nodded, running a hand through dark hair. "They're can't be many left now. Let Kincaid take over for a while, you can't keep doing this to yourself. Iv'e appointed new territory leaders for Scotland, they'll have vampires watching out for any Fallen."
I knew he was right. Hunting every night without feeding was beginning to exhaust me. Yet, being here, doing nothing but play at Queen set me on edge. I needed to be doing something productive. At least I knew the rest of the country's vamps were on the look out as well, it took a little of that weighted responsibility off my shoulders.
"I will get a night off tomorrow, and then there's a ball to look forward to," I said with a smile.
Atanas laughed, pulling me against his chest. "Being amongst self-righteous vampires may be more tiring and dangerous than hunting down Fallen."
"I manage to be around you," I teased, allowing myself to lean into him.
A swift swat to my rear had me gasping, heat rising to pool low in my belly. Blue eyes darkened as they looked down at me, his lips twitching in amusement. "You think I am self-righteous?"
Grinning, I went up on tiptoe, kissing my mate and King deeply. He groaned against my lips, his fingers digging into my hips but I pulled back to whisper, "I think it comes with being an ancient vampire."
"Why do you always point out how old I am?" he sighed, his bottom lip pouting just a little.
"It makes me feel a little better about my own age," I answered, pushing him towards the bed. "Enough talking now."
Atanas grinned, his gaze darkening once more as he toppled me onto the bed, murmuring against my throat, "Yes, My Queen."
"And Michael is Princeps of?"
"Engla-meri-land. . ." I blundered, dropping my hands uselessly to the table, my head following at the look Zena gave me.
Anna snorted, munching on the packet of crisps she was happily focused on.
"That's not a country, you're not even trying," Zena scolded, hitting the table by my head.
I jerked back up, giving her a glare. "I am fucking trying but there's too many names to remember and I really don't care. They're all going to be arrogant arseholes vying for the affection of their King so they can show up the others. I know they're kind."
"Start caring!" she snapped, gripping her hair in frustration. "This isn't a game, Shylah! This isn't something you can sarcasm and joke your way through. This is serious. This is creating alliances that can mean the rise or fall of your people. You decided to accept being Atanas' mate and the responsibilities that came with. You stood up and vowed to be Queen. Nobody forced this on you, nobody made you stand up, so stop acting like a child in a school lesson!"
Anna's wide eyes met mine, both of us equally as scared of her at that moment. She was right though which was a bitter pill to swallow. I'd been acting out because I was finding it difficult, because it was asking me to step up to the plate and I dreaded having to spend time with more ancients who would most definitely look down at me.
"Sheesh, Zena. No need to rip me a new one," I muttered defensively, feeling thoroughly told off as I slumped back in my chair.
Her jaw clicked, her hands going to her hips and I sat up straight again.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make another sarcastic comment. They just slip out. Michael is Princeps of. . ." I bit my lip, raking through my thoughts. "America right?"
Finally I got something close to a smile from the witch who nodded and sat back down. "Yes."
I sighed, feeling like my brain was about to explode. Secretly, I was terrified beyond belief about tomorrow night. I didn't feel ready to be in a room filled with other vampires and whatever else would come. It would be hard to ignore the need to keep a wall at my back, and what if Airell had gotten to some of the leaders first and there was an attack?
Zena reached over to table, drawing my attention to her. "You're overthinking. Una and I will have our witches everywhere, nobody will get hurt. Nobody would even think to try, not in Atanas' presence."
I nodded. I'd been telling myself that same thing over and over again, that they'd be stupid to attack the oldest and strongest of all of us. But that wasn't all I was worried about; I feared revealing the newest of my strange quirks.
"With so much magic in the room, I'm scared my hands will do their turn into glow sticks trick," I admitted, tucking them safely beneath the table as if simply speaking about it would have them sparking.
"Has it happened again since that night?" Anna asked, dropping her feet from the chair to lean towards me, unable to hide the burning curiosity in her voice.
"No. I'm beginning to think I imagined it, but you all saw it too."
"Give me your hands," Zena demanded, holding her own out.
Hesitantly, I did as she asked. I held my breath, and even Anna watched closely. The tell tale tingle of magic made me shudder and I almost yelped and jerked away as my own hands started to glow that strange, shimmering silver. Zena didn't let me pull my hands away, her nails digging into my skin. I recognised that haze in her eyes and froze.
"Zena?" I whispered warily only for Anna to shush me.
"She can't hear you, she's trying to see."
"See what?" I asked, panic creeping in.
The silver glow didn't lesson, a strange electric buzz beginning to spark over my skin. I gasped, a jolt going through me. I didn't like the haunted look on Zena's face, nor the way a tension had begun to build in my stomach, something feeling almost like a tugging.
"What is that?" I yelped, trying to pull my hands away once more.
Anna came closer now, amazement in her expression. "That's your magic, she's trying to pull it out."
I shook my head, my chest constricting almost painfully. That wasn't what I wanted. I didn't want to completely unleash the thing that Airell craved from me, I didn't want to have to face the truth of what Una had told me about Leyla. I wasn't ready.
"No! I don't want it. Enough, make her stop," I rambled, fear creeping into my tone as my hands began to burn. "Enough!"
Zena flew back and I sprang from my chair, stumbling away in horror. She hit the opposite wall with a thump, her neck snapping back. The burn lessened, the glow faded and I stood trembling against the wall. Had I done that?
Anna ran to Zena's side and I slid along the wall to the door, fleeing from the room. I didn't know where I was running, I didn't care that I unceremoniously shoved people out of the way. When the others found out what I'd done, would they come for me, would I be in trouble, something to fear? I'd hurt Zena. Fuck, I hadn't even stayed to make sure she was okay! What was wrong with me?
Barrelling my way through the closest door, I wasn't overly surprised when I found myself in the makeshift basement. Unlike the ones back at Airell's home, these were less dingy and cleaner. Atanas was in the process of having everything down here renovated for any future vampire we would need to keep captive. It would be a completely modernised prison by the time it was finished but for now it still looked old and musty, like the dungeons of old.
Every cell was empty and I walked until I reached the only unlocked door. It smelt stale in here, but I happily decided to use it as my hiding place, even if I could smell that something had died in here. It had been used when we first moved for the vampires that we'd captured in the battle that were undecided about where their loyalties lay. A few fates had been decided in this very room. Leaning against a rickety wooden table, I sucked in a deep breath, the familiar scent of rot lingering on my tongue. I stayed like that until I felt I had control again, staring at my hands in anger.
This was what Airell was after. If I had magic, did that mean he was right and I could indeed bare children? Gods I hoped not, I knew what would happen if it was true. Vampires would come for me, if they weren't already. There would be none of the peace that I craved.
Turning, I punched the stone wall, feeling satisfaction as brick crumbled. My hand ached, blood dripping from one of my knuckles, but I felt better. It had gotten rid of a little of that built of tension that was starting to make my shoulders hurt. I felt the need to scream, and fight, and run until I couldn't anymore but instead I slid down the wall and gripped my head between my hands.
"Damn you, Leyla, wherever you are for doing this to me," I muttered furiously.
"Careful, she might hear you."
My head snapped up and it took a moment for my eyes to adjust to make out that the tall shadow was Una. Her cat-like green eyes almost glowed in the dark and she looked unimpressed.
"I hope she does," I replied, not bothering to stand. "Maybe she'd be able to take whatever magic or weird ass gift I have away."
Una continued to stare at where I sat hunched against the dungeon wall but I didn't care if I looked mad. Hell, maybe I was. She'd already seen me looking pathetic hiding in the dark, there was no point pretending otherwise. Tired of the awkward silence that stretched on, I unfurled myself a little.
"You knew the stories about Leyla, and the child she bore. Your people knew her. Do you know what's happening to me?" I asked wearily.
She sat beside me, stretching out long legs. "Afraid not, this is new territory for everyone. There will be hundreds of humans, thousands even that carry her blood. Very few of them will be like you. All I know is there's some sort of telltale sign that I'm not aware of and Airell was looking for ones like you."
"Ones like me, you mean Moontouched. He was looking for the cursed ones."
I already knew that much. Fate decided I'd be the lucky one he found and I wasn't sure how he knew I was one either. Of all the descendants of Leyla, why did I have to be the cursed one. Una shifted next to me and I noticed her frown.
"It's not a curse. Magic isn't a curse," she argued.
"It is when having it means your family was slaughtered and you were imprisoned for two centuries being repeatedly tortured. I'd call that pretty fucking cursed," I spat, folding my arms. "I don't want it. I didn't ask for it. I don't want what it means."
"Danu save me from your whining," Una groaned, shoving herself back to her feet.
I glared, standing too. "I'm not whining. I'm pissed off. I'm tired."
"We're all tired, Shylah. I'm sorry you suffered as you did. I lost seven of my people the night we chased Airell off, and I don't want to think about the others that he's killed, the ones we never found and the ones that are still out there but we can't sit in dungeons and wallow in self pity. You were dealt a shitty hand, and it's sucks but having a little magic isn't the end of the world. I'm here to tell you that I'll teach you how to use it, and it'll make you stronger. All I need is a yes or a no and then I'll leave you to sit in this creepy room of death."
One hand propped on her hip, she stared expectantly, awaiting my answer. I chewed my lip, unable to make my mind up. Did I dare accept that I had magic and could learn to wield it, and await whatever else that meant, or did I ignore it and hope it disappeared?
"Tik tok, Vampire Queen," Una drawled.
I faltered, my mind going completely blank.
Una sighed and turned to leave. "Times up."
"Yes! Okay, I want to learn," I yelled, grabbing her arm.
She smirked and I realised she'd been taunting me. She'd played me too easily and irritation flared but I wouldn't back away now. At least if I knew how to use what I had then I could maybe keep myself and those around me safe. Somehow, I would find out what I truly was and I would use it against Airell if I could.
"We start in two days. I'll give you tomorrow to play dress up with the rest of the bloodsuckers," she said. "It's time to stop cowering from yourself, Shylah."
I nodded, ignoring her jibe. She was right, I had to face this head on.