'The mist grew too thick to breathe in, even worse to see through. Damien didn’t appreciate the long hassle he was putting himself through. But it was needed.
They wouldn’t have sent him down to the Malfoy dungeons if it hadn’t been necessary. If they hadn’t been desperate.
And who else would they send if it wasn’t Damien? He was the council’s diplomat, the smooth, level-headed talker. If only these qualities of his had helped them before; he wouldn’t have been risking the board’s safety right this moment as he steps his final step down the wretched rocky staircase.
The Malfoy tower of dungeons wasn’t the utter abysmal pit to be thrown into for nothing, Damien thought to himself, as he walked down the long, dingy hall, taking measured precautions not to step on any of the dead creatures lying precariously on the rotting floor.
A sound of dripping kept catching his ears, causing him to flinch with every drop as if at any moment, the droplets of god forbid whatever nastiness that the ceiling held, would fall onto him. He dared look up when the last droplet frayed his nerves, and he finally put a source to the sound.
The ceiling was leaking. Of what, he did not want to know.
As he ventured deeper and deeper into the hall, the air pressed tighter and tighter around him, as if stretching his own skin taut.
Dampness nipped at his skin.
Rot and decay swirled into his nostrils.
Bile was starting to rise up his throat, but he quelled it down.
What Imperial is he, the leader of the Imperial council, if he couldn’t as much handle a mere walk through some dying dungeon?
As he neared the dungeon he meant to visit, the only one in this hall, at its deep end, he realized it wasn’t the dreadfulness of the tower’s state that rattled him.
But it was his reunion with his step-brother.
Damien suspected the board sent him specifically because of this relation.
Little did they feebly know that it would do more harm than good.
Damien would be the first to be hunted down, slain, ripped limb from limb apart by Dominicus if his step brother had the chance. Fortunately, Damien made sure Dominicus would never have the chance.
It wasn’t his fault for what he’s done. It was a necessary evil.
And deep down, he strongly believed Dominicus couldn’t have cared so much about him either way to feel the sting of betrayal.
Shaking his head, Damien strove to clear his head, but the mist clouding the hall made it a challenge to do so. A crunch sounds under his foot, and he stops dreadfully, looking down at the ground before the cell he’s finally reached.
Damien’s eyebrows flicker.
Not the empty blood-bag he’s known to be the usual nutrition source of an imprisoned vampire.
The head of a man was staring right back at him, the mouth still torn open in an exclaim of horror. And the loud crunch had been from Damien, stepping over the man’s skull.
Damien slowed the grim regret that was starting to climb his throat with a swallow.
This wasn’t a good idea, and he knew it.
But it was necessary. They were desperate.
With a deep breath, he slid the lock of keys into their different slots. With baited breath, he heard the locks click, then without a second glance back to the dead body torn apart before the cell, Damien took his first step inside.
His breath hitched, but he caught himself.
Dominicus lay there, languid and unbothered, as if he were lying on a divan of silk, with beautiful human slaves offering themselves for both nutrition and pleasure, not on a mere yellowed cloth to separate his muscled body from the dingy floor. He was bare chested, nothing on his lean body but frail trousers wrapping his thighs, calves and other limbs exposed to the merciless cold. Damien doesn’t feel remorse, but..slight curiosity. Does his step brother truly never feel a thing, or is it just a very well practiced act of his?
Damien clears his throat. Dominicus, in his leisured pace, removes his marked arm from over his eyes, peering at the sight of his step brother through one unbothered, opened eye.
A smile precariously hangs on his lips.
In his low voice, danger sings a loud song.
“Well hello there, little brother.”
Dominicus’s hazel eyes burn brighter.
“Two hundred and twenty six years, to what do I owe the pleasure?”
Damien pushes the bridge of his round glasses higher on his nose. Clears his throat, and carefully sets his features to a calm, professional one.
Because he is calm, and professional. And he isn’t about to release the one person that might doom them all.
Dominic stared at his reflection in the mirror, standing square and straight. He holds himself confidently, the air of complete threat and enigma hanging around him. After shaving off the centuries-long beard and overgrown falls of smooth hair, Dominic felt back in command. Felt back like himself, like the vampire royalty he’s always been. The Third Imperial.
The reminisce of the whispers he used to hear in the past tickle his ears. The whispers of fear and resentment that fed his ego, sharpened his cruelty like rough iron against a sharpening knife.
The words had no effect back then. When he was on the loose, unchained, and free to walk the sectors and rule as the imperial blood in him gave him the right to. Monstri Sanguine was like hearing his name, only one given by the common and jealous. He grew with it until its power dulled out.
That was all before the dethroning, before his birthmark was interpreted, and all what life held to him went rolling down from there.
Now, Blood Monster gives him chills. Gives him a new purpose. Because after he is done with the so called human leader, he’d make sure the people crowned him with the title he truly deserved. The title that befits his mark.
Breathing deeply, Dominic cleared his head and took back his reflection in.
It winked back at him.
The edges of his lips curve, the slight curves being sharp enough to send shivers down the servant’s back. With a languid, unrushed glance to the servant, Dominic watches with interest the human scampering to fight the disorientation off and focusing back at his mission in hand: tailoring the perfect suit for the imperfect imperial. Because what is better than shocking the sector rulers and the rest of the imperials with his presence than with a well-trimmed haircut and a mind stunning piece of suit.
The servant’s hands quiver around Dominic’s strong curves of his arm muscles, and a measuring needle dabs into Dominic’s pale skin.
Time shuts down.
The human risks a glimpse to the vampire, checking whether he gets to live for another breath in his wretched life or not. Dominic holds the servants gaze in the mirror. Fight or flight thrums through the boy’s veins. Any minute now would be his demise. Then—
Dominic’s lips sharpen into a cutting smile. The boy drops his tailoring kit. It hits the floor with a loud ring, and the scurry in the room halts to a freeze. The world stands on a thread of hair. The third imperial is back after centuries, the monster they used to hear hair-raising legends of before their enslaving. He literally stands among them now, and they have no idea what to expect. Have the years deemed him more ruthless? Have they weakened him?
With the ease of a person with all the time on his hands, the ancient vampire gives the quivering boy a single look.
“Pick it up.”
Three words. Not a shout. Barely a whisper.
The servant falls down to his knees, collecting the measuring tools of his kit as if they were shattered parts of his second chance at a life. As the boy collects the tools, he glances up at the ancient standing right over his head, looking out for whatever surprise danger the imperial could decide to inflect on him when he’s not looking. But Dominic does nothing.
And the small smile on his face while he watches the human servant unnerves the boy more.
“Heavens, Dominicus. This room reeks of fear.” The only person who could dare direct words to the imperial steps into the room, and relief slices a knife into the fabric of suffocating tension blanketing the air. Other servants resume back to their work with more ease, and the tailoring boy gets back up from the floor, willing to reattempt his mission with the presence of the most peaceful and rational imperial. At least he understands the nature of servants and their mistakes.
“It is not my fault the servants fear me for nothing.”
“For nothing? Truly?” Damien approaches his step brother and stands behind him. Dominic, with the same easy smile plastered on his face, locks eyes with the eighth imperial through the mirror and raises a shoulder in a shrug.
“It truly wounds me. I have not ripped a throat out in this day, and the servant has already done more to deserve it.” Dominic proceeds to wink at the human boy beside him. His lips visibly tremble.
“I like this one. Let us keep him.” Dominic’s lips stretch as the boy’s face pales until his eyes’ whites match the color of his face.
“Give it a break, brother.” Damien sighs, looking around the room at the servants exchanging looks of unease while scuffling to finish their tasks and be let out of the room.
The smile and ease remain on Dominic’s face, but his tone drops to something of a slice that could slit the human boy’s throat after all.
“Oh, I’ll make sure of it, brother. After all, I was just released today.”
In a second, the tension is released off the servant’s shoulders, tangling between the step brothers instead. Damien maintains the gaze of Dominic’s, pushing the bridge of his spectacles with a tiny less calm.
“Are you done?” He turns to the human boy, who dares not speak, but simply nod once.
“Good. I need this suit in two hours.”
The human bites on his tongue, holds the thought of how impossible the order is back.
“Dismissed. All of you are.” Damien gives a single look around the room, and the fifteen servants in the room, polishing Dominic’s leather shoes and arranging the other assemblements of his suit, collect the remnants of their jobs and flock out of the room.
“Always leeching the fun out of everything, aren’t we?” Dominic returns back to his reflection, grazing a finger along his clean-shaved, smooth jaw.
“I am best aware we are both fond of cutting to the chase. So, I might as well venture ahead.”
While the tailors craft a crisp new suit for Dominic’s fresh slate, he stands in his old elaborately sewn suit, the thick red velvet cape of his pinned to his broad shoulders. The only missing accessory is a jeweled crown of rubies worn askew over his head. Then, would he truly look the part of the untethered imperial he is.
Nevertheless, his step brother has broken the moment of mesmerize by stepping closer and uttering words that send heat through his veins.
“In an hour, after the suit is brought in, you will be meeting the council. I plead you, Dominicus. Be on your best behavior--No, be everything you think they are, stroke their feathers. I have barely succeeded to persuade them of your release. I ask of you to not let my trial fall to a blunder.”
In mere seconds, Dominic has whipped around, yanked his step brother off the floor, and thwarted him against the mirror, shattered pieces falling to their leather-cladded feet.
Dominic smiles cruelly, taking a good look at the wide blue irises of his brother’s, and leans in, “I could wipe your existence and the council’s without as much blinking an eye. Do you want the human be rid of with or without your witness?”
Damien’s nose flares, the pupils behind his glasses dilating with the calculations of Dominic’s value and Dominic’s threat.
The value wins over.
He grits on his teeth, grinding them to dust before covering Dominic’s hands with his and giving them a shove. Dominic easily releases him, content with the message being received and loud.
“Now that we have established that, do get on with the details and debriefing of this human blithe the whole council couldn’t put their minds together to deal with.”
Damien seethes. “It isn’t that simple.”
Dominic raises an eyebrow in mock suspicion.
“You had to convince a council of ancient vile creatures to reach for the help of the very imperial you and them decided to put away in the first place?”
“Which exactly shows how dangerous and dire the situation is.”
Dominic half shrugs, a simper adorning his wine tinted lips. “Or how unfit you bunch of airheads truly are.”
“Dominicus.” Damien hisses, only brightening the laugh of Dominic’s. The third imperial turns around from the splintered mirror, walks to his brother, and stops by his shoulder, patting it in condolence.
“Relax, brother. It’s not my best behavior that will win them over, it’s the bargain I intend to strike.”
Damien steps back, stricken. “No. Absolutely not. No bargains. You might claim them airheads, but even the servants know not to seal a bargain with you.”
“You make it sound like the devil should kneel before me.”
Damien doesn’t humor his brother. Dominic’s smirk only sharpens.
“He most probably should.” Dominic answers for his brother.
“Twenty three imperials, Damien. I can charm them with my level headed plan.”
“Twenty one. She’s killed two of us.”
The humor melts away from Dominic’s handsome face; it hardens to stone.
“Killed? Two of us? A mere human??”
“I told you it is with complications.”
“As far as I remember, brother, we are immortals. Not to add, imperials. Royals, originals. Blue blood runs through our veins—
“--does it matter, now?! Common vampires cannot be rid of us, let alone a human!”
Suddenly, Damien forgets the decisions that put a thorn between the brothers, forgets the rocky relationship with his step brother, and clutches the shoulders of Dominic, true urgency spilling out of his eyes.
“That is what I need you to understand. This human you underestimate has changed the game, and we are not on the top of the chain anymore.”
Dominic steps back, out and away from the clutch of his brother, disgust evidently showing on his snarling face.
“How is it that you have let things reach so far? Let a human stir such fear in your heart? And you call yourself the council’s master? The council’s head?”
“Diminish me all you want. However, it is not the time for that, but the time to act against the human queen.”
“Queen?” Dominic sneers. “And you let her be crowned with a title? A human?”
Damien, for the first time, allows a crack in his constant demeanor of composure, and loosens the tie around his neck before shoving both hands into his platinum hair.
“Just listen to me, Dominicus. I know your wiles and wits make you the best judge of characters, and no underestimation will be blatant after I am done with the details.”
Still in shock, Dominic reels with disgust, continuing to shake his head as the news settle in. When the situation has been somewhat grasped, Dominic looks up from the splintered reflection of his beautiful face and over his shoulders to the step brother that allowed this mayhem in.
“Before anything, I need Raphael back with me.”
Damien’s eyebrows rise in surprise, his hands raised and ready in defense. “I have barely managed to allow your release, your familiar--
“--will be back and free, or the human keeps cutting imperials short. You know I could care any less about what happens to everyone, including you.”
Damien huffs in aggravation, tapping his foot rapidly against the rich wood of the floor before meeting Dominic’s eyes. “Fine. The familiar gets to be back.”
Dominic gives himself one more look in the largest jagged piece of the mirror: the royal velvet and silks around him, the rings in his fingers, the clean shave of his jaw and the fresh trim of his honey hair. Shutting his eyes, he imagines Raphael back on his shoulders. A vicious smile takes over his wine colored lips, and his eyes flash open.
“Let’s go plan some havoc on a human queen.”
The council has no idea what they are in for.
Finishing up his look, a servant gains permission to allow her fingers into his luscious hair, the scent of hypnosis and alpine leather wood wafting from every lock she parts and collects to pin back from his forehead. Although he is the long forgotten imperial, standing opposite her, the servant looks down from her work to his eyes, and a rush of color tints her face from the stable heat of his gaze.
Flustered, the servant blinks away his heat and fixes her eyes on his hair and nothing more. After every detail of his attire is perfected to no blemish, Dominic stands before the mirror and lets his eyes roam the stranger in his reflection for yet another time in his day. The stranger in his reflection doesn’t have the overgrown lengths of hair that dragged after him for the centuries he wasn’t allowed outside. The stranger in his reflection doesn’t have the bland grubbles of what used to be his living attire, presumably potato sacks emptied by the kitchens sewn for outerwear.
Most definitely, the stranger in his reflection glows and twinkles with the many hanging silvers and rubies adorning his suit and fingers. The last piece to his swooning reflection, would be the twinkling set of loosely strewn rubies with gold stems that round his hair like a headpiece. Or a humbled version of a crown.
The confident smile on his lips stretches with his dramatic flare. Surely, he wasn’t crowned anything, not to mention head of the council. But his drama for an entrance to their wretched lives would serve him a pleasure he’d have no end of.
Distracting Dominic from his reverie between the past and present, the rich double doors to his current suite open, a servant with a golden gilded cage the size of three of his heads walking in. Dominic’s heart gives the lightest beat of ecstasy.
The raven’s protesting caws halt to an end when it whips its head to the vampire standing in the room.
Then it lets one caw, different from the many others.
Dominic fully smiles now, with teeth that have been glimmered to white again now that he was out. He advances the cage the servant holds with large steps, before stopping before the cage. Without a warning, with a dangerous smile licking his lips, he throws open the cage’s door. The celebratory caws of the crow intensify as he soars out of the cage and into the room, sending cries of alarm and panic reverberating off the room’s walls as the servants hurry to flock out of the room.
Soon after, no servant or human stands in the current suite of the imperial, no one between his familiar and his glamorous return.
“Welcome back, Rapha.”
Raphael blinks, caws, and his limbs and joints start twisting haphazardly and horrifyingly, when he finally stops twitching to his human form.
“Never thought the day would come, Master...”
Dominic shares a smile with the ravened boy before him, sharp teeth adorning both their smiles.
“Neither did the council, Rapha. However, I find myself feeling the tiniest bit nostalgic.” Raphael twitches with his smirk, cocking his head to the side as a vulture does but in a boy form.
“Let us pay our finest visit to the council.”
The canines in Dominic’s familiar glint for the briefest of seconds, before his joints and limbs converge together as he takes flight in his raven form. As he perches and settles onto his master’s shoulder, they both find their way out of the room, with havoc leaving a menacing tendril of smoke behind. Dominic knows the council’s meeting hall very well. However, Damien insists on leading them to the hall, either out of mistrust or fear of his deep original intentions.
But Damien claims it is only to smooth the entrance out and appeal to the council before Dominic could jump at the chance of insulting them.
Dominic stops before the hall’s doors, Raphael fluttering in anticipation over his shoulder. Dominic can feel it. The blue blood churning in every imperial immortal body. He can feel that same blood stop at the quivering mention of Dominic’s name as Damien informs the others of his release.
Now that they are soon to face him, they might not be the fearless daunting ancients they presume they are. With every second and word of explanation that leaves Damien’s lips inside, tension dresses every imperial in the room. Then Damien stops talking, and every eye turns to the door. He can feel it.
Baited breaths touch faintly the pale lips of the undead inside.
Then he steps in. All regal and humming power. Ever since Damien has brought in the same witch that has shackled Dominic’s powers, she has spelled him free, and the full force of his powers hit him back.
The powers that have been locked within him for centuries and various kingdoms threatened to burst free from him, but as quickly as his powers dominated him, he managed to reign and control his gifts.
Now, the ecstasy returns and dances in his veins as he finally meets the same imperials who locked him away.
“In we go, Raphael.”
Raphael simply caws as the first sign of their presence, before breaths are visibly shaken by the entrance of said third imperial’s release.
No body speaks, and Dominic does not hold the time to simply lift his eyes to the room as a rush of great perfume, silks, and hair engulf the released imperial in stance.
“Dominic!” A gasp of utter delight escapes the only imperial daring enough to come in sudden contact with Dominicus.
Anastasia is as lovely as Dominic could remember, and although she’s always invested more interest in him than he did to her, she’s been the only other vampire he’d enjoy her company for as long.
Still, he doesn’t touch her. Doesn’t return her embrace. And she doesn’t let go. Just as sudden as her welcome was, her lips were even a greater sudden touch to his. The first contact in years, and her longing appetite for him left him stumbling back a step.
“That is enough, Anastasia.” Damien clears his throat uncomfortably, unsure of the necessity of witnessing such a display. It is not an alien truth to the council, that something brings Dominicus and Anastasia together, but to quite witness it as the first interaction from the returning imperial only stirs further unrest.
Blushing (or what is supposed to be feigned), Anastasia steps back from Dominic and gives him a wolfish smile. Slightly entertained, Dominic gives her the tiniest quirk of his lips. After she has receded from filling his line of vision, Dominic views the room, all resolved calm and reverberating wit.
“Quite refreshing to see faces. I must say, the walls of the dungeon were getting rather dull.”
Most imperials attempt expressions, things that should somewhat be resembling disinterest and calm, but their eyes could very well be betraying them in the open. Nevertheless, Dominic remains his version of..friendly.
“Isn’t it a bummer of sorts? No welcome backs? Not a smile to the returning hero saving the day?”
“Do not stretch it, Dominicus. Your future and immortality rest on the line as well.” Oreon, the fifth imperial, speaks first.
Dominic’s lips sharpen devilishly then. “Oh? Pray do tell, how?”
Cleo chimes next to oblige Dominic’s request. “We face a force unlike any other, Dominic. She has gained so much, so fast.”
Dominic has to fight the urge to roll his eyes.
“No need for the theatrics, Cleo. Save it for your gullible guests of entertainment.”
“He doesn’t stretch the truth, Dominic.” Anastasia joins in, and Dominic’s mocking lips falter only slightly. What a disappointment, for her to join them in their act of cowardice, cowering upon the mention of a mere human.
However, Dominic blows a breath of air out of his lips, pulling a chair at the head of the long meeting wood table Damien should be heading.
“I’ll borrow this shortly, brother.” Dominic excuses briefly to his step brother, but every soul in the room is aware of the power move Dominic’s just checked in. No one dares to raise a voice to it.
Not when they risk so much.
Damien doesn’t speak, resuming to return the expecting stare of his troublesome step brother. When it looks like no objection is coming from the Damien, Dominic returns to the faces adjacent to the running sides of the table.
“Back to the topic at hand then.” He makes sure he meets every eye in the hall as he says, “Now why should I give this any of my attention?”
Someone snorts, and all eyes cut to the culprit. Bastian returns the same glare of Dominic’s. “If it has flown right past your head, Dominicus, I would like to remind you. You are one of us.” Dominic’s eyes smile, something more worrisome than when his lips do. They blindly fall into the traps, don’t they?
“Oh, am I?”
Bastian doesn’t return the stare this time, the bold fading from his façade.
“It is not time to hold grudges, Dominicus. The risks run high for all of us, including The One.” This time, Bastian is relieved from Dominic’s stare as he turns to Vita, his voice not so friendly anymore.
“Again. How, does this, involve me?” Enunciating his words accentuated what was really hidden beneath his words.
They will beg, and they will beg low.
“We have allowed your release, Dominicus. We need all heads in this matter if we want an end to this inconvenience.”
“I thought your heads were more than enough for you when I was decided to be put away?”
A booming silence echoes through the hall, all faces grim but one.
“So do you want yourself back in the dungeons? The sorcer of powers is right behind the doors.” Damien dares poking the bear.
Leaning back and propping his long legs at the head of the table, Dominic crosses his arms behind his head as he raises his face to meet Damien, who stands by his side. “If my powers intact isn’t a worse stake than the human on the loose, then have a go at it. Eighth imperial.”
Damien grinds his teeth together, the thought of sending his step brother back fleeting through his mind, before Anastasia attempts to dissipate the tension in the air.
“Dominic, I’ll say it.” Dominic turns to the ninth imperial, gazing at her raven threads of silk hair and voluminous body before meeting her eyes again. “We need you. I need you.”
A moment of silence passes between them. All necks and heads stretch in anticipation as the thrill of Dominic’s acceptance looms ahead.
“Again, not my concern.”
“The One has issued your obedience and contribution.”
“And was The One made aware of my disappearance?” Dominic challenges back with a raised brow, and the tenth imperial, Atticus, shrinks back.
Realizing the scenario at hand is straying from the one he put in mind, Dominic attempts to recollect himself and put the pieces to his chess battle back in place. A slow small smile covers the remnants of the cold fury that brewed under his words.
“Although I have suffered many of your injustices, I will allow myself to be of assistance.”
Like a switch, all tensions and strain have eased out of the room.
“On one condition.”
An audible gasp rings through the gold glasses of drink on the table.
Dominic lets the handsome mask of his face fall, the devil’s spawn molding his face instead.
Uproar rises through the room.
“You dare bargain with us?! We, blue blooded imperials who have the power to send you back to the rotten pits of this earth?!” Achilles booms, the most pathetic ancient of them all.
The second imperial who, although is greater than Dominic in power, has deserted all what his power could promise for the trivial pleasures of their life. Dominic strengthens the promise to be rid of him first of them all.
Contrary to his internal revulsion of Achilles, he keeps a placid smile on the exterior. “We are not as thoughtless as you think us to accept a bargain of your choice.”
Dominic starts, unbothered.
“My offer is the following, I end this human, you grant me back my freedom. For as long as my mortality.”
“Because we are a bunch of imbeciles to agree to that!”
Dominic simply shrugs and shuts his eyes, continuing to lean back in his chair. Raphael, however, in harmony with his master, elevates the scattered nerves in the room, dispersing them further with his high caws and wild soaring in the high ceiling room. A few shouts mourn the ruined gowns and suits as Raphael knocks over golden goblets of wine across the table.
When enough chaos has ensued, Raphael returns back to his master’s shoulder, and a startling silence falls on the room. “For all your claimed wits, you did not honestly believe you’ll let me out only to put me back in, did you?”
When nothing but cold hard stares meet his scanning eyes, he smiles inwardly to himself. “My offer does not stand for long. That is the only term I will agree to, putting my grudges aside, helping you out and what not.”
Several seconds of harbored hatred is drilled into Dominic’s being, before Oreon speaks again. “Does this include your familiar? Why in the world was he allowed back in the first place?”
“I authorized it.” Damien speaks, and the shock is not missed on any of the imperials.
“As the head of the council, I authorized it. And if none of you are willing to verbalize the utter need for Dominic’s assistance, I will.”
Dominic’s eyebrows furrow as he turns to his step brother, trying to decipher his compliance. Not the expected action of this piece of the pawns. But then again, his step brother was head for this reason, no pride to hinder rational decision making. Definitely no irrational indulgence and pleasures to be in his way either.
When no protests are further voiced against Damien, Dominic sits straight in his chair and looks expectantly at the board of council.
“All in favor to the acceptance of the bargain, rise.” A silent vote has initialized at Damien’s words.
Hands did not rise at any point.
But then, with hesitancy turning the time into sluggish motions, hands were starting to rise, the first of them being Anastasia's. She makes sure Dominic does not miss that with her eyes.
With twenty one hands in the air, Dominic whispers to himself, “Checkmate.” Then, more audibly to the room, “Let the human be gone then.”