Sunlight filters vibrantly through the wide windows. It’s his third day back, and Dominic is unable, yet, to get accustomed to the light. Harsh pools of light reflect off the marble ground. A sight his eyes deliver to his brain, but can’t fathom or register.
He’d been in the dark for so long, for centuries, his mind had let go of the fantasy of waking up to light, instead of stuffy gloom. Another thing he isn’t used to, is waking up with a beauty in his bed, by his arms.
It’d been their routine, all right. However, a century on a flat mattress on a cold bricked ground with nothing but solitude as the one hanging on your arm..It’s disorientating, and Dominic has the briefest of struggles trying to adjust to it. His old life. The life he should continue to live after he’s wiped off every member of the council.
Even The One. He doesn’t know what his position was when the council ousted him. But one thing is for sure. The One let them send him away.
Shifting next to him rattles the thoughts away, and he turns to the imperial next to him.
“Mmmm.” She groans, stretching and twisting as her limbs get only more tangled in the pristine sheets. Dominic eyes her, unable to deny the perk of feigning forgiveness: he gets to enjoy Anastasia’s beauty at his whim.
Her limbs come in contact with his, and an instant smile paints her lips. He goes back to mulling what’s next to come in his plans, staring at the ceiling, while she snuggles into his left side, curling herself around his arm and leg.
“Oh how I’ve missed waking this way.” She mumbles against the warm skin of his shoulder. She peppers the length of his shoulder with kisses, reaching up to the crook of his neck. Nevertheless, he maintains his gaze at the ceiling, while smirking slightly.
“I’m sure you’ve kept your bed warm every morning.”
She tsks as she continues to peck the skin over his collarbone. “Is this jealousy I’m picking up from the all mighty Dominic?” She snickers against his skin, before climbing over his torso and straddling him. The sheets abandon her, and only her long locks of straight, ethereal, shiny black hair spill over her shoulders and chest, the incredible length of them pooling all around both of them.
“Yes. I feel immense jealousy of the ones who have touched you and never lived up to my handiwork .”
She replaces the sight of the ceiling as she looms over him, eyes twinkling and conceding to the condescending statement he made. “Well then, you must be reliving moments of last night if you’re drilling stares into the ceiling so hard.”
He smiles, self complacent as he runs his fingers down the sides of her thighs. “I don’t have to reminisce about anything when I can have it again.”
Anastasia laughs, eyes twinkling as takes a moment to drink his presence and comments in. His body leisurely laid back under her as she straddles him; his gleaming, smooth fair skin; the flop of his tousled bed hair, dark and mixed with honey; the lazy stare of his hazel green eyes. A flutter rumbles in the pit of her stomach, but she regains her nonchalant cool before he would catch on to the heavy attachment to him that is greater than what she lets on. Before her grip over her feelings spin out of her hold, she climbs off of his torso. As she moves off of him to walk to the large washroom, she pokes his mind for information.
“Well, if it isn’t a reminisce of last night, then you must be concocting against the human.”
As she steps her first foot into the washroom, she hears his hum of agreement.
The rush of the water running in the washroom swims in the back of Dominic’s mind, as he mulls the information he has on the human leader over in his mind. According to what he’s been told by the members of the council, some pieces of the puzzle either don’t add up, or are just simply missing. When truly thinking about it, what he’s been told doesn’t amount to anything of value.
And this is where the part Anastasia rolls in.
He has her wrapped around his finger back, just like the old times, all the while she’s thinking she hides it well from him. Accordingly, he’s inclined to believe she’d surrender much more accurate information and insight than the other imperial members of the council would.
Until she returns back to the room, he puts the little information of what he knows into order.
He knows that she’s powerful, with powers just like theirs and the witches. But none of the imperials know what exactly she has, concealing it from their world. Which brings him to his next doubt.
How do they know she’s powerful then? And why do they shrink back in fear of what they don’t know? For all he knows, her so-called powers could be nothing but a bluff. A game of minds and control, just like how he prefers.
He can’t lie and deny the fact that the human having the imperials in the dark doesn’t give him a thrill at the thought of the chase and the challenge.
He also knows that two of the twenty five imperials have been murdered by her, a reality he can not perceive. Vesper and Cecilia. The 21st and 23rd imperial. Sure, they are of the lowest, weakest ranks among them, but an imperial, no matter the rank, remains untouchable and imperishable, even to a regular vampire, let alone a human.
It might have been her “powers” that have ended Vesper and Cecilia, who weren’t really the smartest pack of the imperials, but that paves the way for the next boggling question: How does she have her powers in the first place? In this world, the time after The Damning, one could only be a meek human, a rare witch, or a regular vampire. Imperials are only twenty five, and there could be no other. So how does she belong to the humans when she has powers? Why is the possibility of her classification as a witch not in the question?
“Witches behold. Dominic is actually boggled.”
Anastasia’s presence back in the room dismantles his trail of thought, and he turns toward her, watching her stand in his robe and drying her hair out.
“What indicates that?”
“You’re frowning. You never frown. You’re always a mask of calm and collected.” He smirks, before diving hastily into business.
“What do you think of her?”
She pauses, mid-dry, looking up toward him.
“The human. What do you think of her?”
For a moment, she blinks in confusion, before she clearly voices it. “I..don’t see how my personal opinion is of any help?”
Dominic remains in the bed, back against the headboard as he’s absorbed back in his world.
“I want to know how you feel about her. Is she truly as powerful and intimidating as the rest of the council claims?”
“Oh.” She pauses, suddenly scowling and shaking her head. “Oh, Dominic. What a pent up tirade you’re on the verge of uncorking right now.”
Now, he sits up straight, beckoning for her to come closer. “Tell me.”
“Saints, Dominic--you have no idea.” Dominic doesn’t believe in the Seven Saints, but he keeps listening. She flips her damp hair over, frustration bouncing off her in overwhelming waves.
“The council members! They madden me! It isn’t the reality that she has us in a corner. The reality is that they let her! They are so enraptured with her beauty and charm that they let her get her way with them! You think she threatens with her powers to get what she wants? Saints, Dominic. She bats her eyelashes for a minute there, smiles alluringly for a second there, puts a hand to the arm,” to demonstrate, she puts a hand gently to his arm, “Et Voila! They’re in bed with her. I’m the seductress, and I can see right through her way.”
This. This certainly was not unveiled to Dominic by the council members when they begged for his help.
“In bed with her, you said?” This was news to him.
A frown settles between her brows. “..That wasn’t mentioned to you?”
A sheen of ice darkens his eyes. His lips set into a thin line. “No, it wasn’t.” No other signs of anger flicker across his face.
Anastasia looks away, unable to even squeeze a breath in. She realizes she’s unearthing information that was intentionally obscured from him. They’ve scorned him into oblivion, brought him back only on their conditions for assistance, and even with that, they’re not giving him the whole truth. Given this truth only makes them more vulnerable to him than they already are, but truly, how does the council expect him to get rid of the human if they do not own up to their own blunders.
A whole tornado of fury was building inside Anastasia’s head. Along with a mild sprout of fear as her imagination paints the brooding picture of Dominic and vengeance against them.
“What else should I know?” His voice. The stillness of it was deafening. Like the calm before the storm. She did not know what to say, how to move. This was the game of his where she had no knowledge of what to anticipate.
“Are you feeling like hiding something from me as well?” He tilts his face toward her, eyes impossibly dark and void, taunting in its deceptive stillness. She doesn’t know whether he’ll lash out or award her.
“N-No.” She croaks out after a minute of struggle.
Suddenly, he shifts in his place, moving up and off the headboard to coil his fingers around her nape. Her breath hitches in her throat as he presses the pads of his fingers into her skin. He inches closer, until a matter of breath is the only distance between their faces. Calmly, he looks into her eyes, licking his lips. “Now, you’ll tell me everything I need to know.”
There was something in the air tonight. Atticus could feel it. An ominous aura. A foreboding energy swirling in the air. Everything feels heavy, like time was suspended, and it’s sending shivers down Atticus’s spine. In his haste to escape this inauspiciousness lingering in the halls, he fastens his steps until he’s reached the safety of his room. At the door, he grabs for the doorknob and gives it a twist. When he’s opened it, a striking sense of horror strips him bare of calm.
In front of him appears the reason behind this foreboding aura.
On the opposite side of the room, Dominic sits languidly on a velvet winged chair, dressed from head to toe in stark, lavish black. But he’s not alone.
On Dominic’s lap, Atticus’s favorite sexual and feeding subject was perched, wheezing and croaking with hollowed eyes and a gaping mouth, as Dominic sucked her dry. With one last croak from the human, Dominic extracts his fangs from her neck before relinquishing his hold on her. Her body falls to the floor in a heap, a dull thud sounding as her skull knocks into the marble floors.
All the while, Atticus stays transfixed by the door, as if turned into stone. The ninth imperial’s eyes latched onto the empty body of his feeding subject. He hadn’t admitted to anyone that he’d grown an inappropriate attachment to this particular servant. Saints, he had only admitted it to himself only recently.
Just how exactly did Dominic..come to find out?
“My apologies, Atticus. One can not help his hunger if you take your sweet time arriving.” This was the first time Dominic has directed words to Atticus at all in over a century. But right now, all Atticus could do, is stand helplessly by the door as his eyes remain transfixed on his favorite, now stolen, meal.
“Oh, I hope you do not mind me bringing my feedings here. Come to find out, when you’re back from an exile of centuries, you grow quite the appetite.” Dominic muses, as if the sight before Atticus’s eyes should be paid no mind. But Atticus knows Dominic.
And Dominic never does anything by chance.
When Atticus finally musters the nerves to look back to the third imperial, he almost loses it as he watches the blood of his servant trickle down Dominic’s ruby-stained lips. Untroubled, Dominic wipes the drizzle of blood from the corners of his lips with gold-ringed fingers, locking eyes with Atticus as he unhurriedly cleans himself up.
“Speak something, Atticus. Or I would start to believe I’ve crossed a line of propriety here.”
Atticus brims silently, his fist shaking from fury by his side. “What brings you here, Dominicus.”
Dominic raises an eyebrow, impressed that the imperial had collected the guts to speak. Even cut to the chase.
“My heart is rather moved that you still recall my name after casting me away.”
Atticus avoids flinching from the snide, one Dominic is lately enjoying reminding the council with.
“Yours is not of the forgettable sorts.”
A smirk pulls on Dominic’s lips. “Indeed, it isn’t.”
“What are you in need of, Dominic?”
“And here I’d thought you’d like a chat with me,” Dominic tsks, shaking his head in a sad mocking manner as he stands from the chair. Looking below, by his foot, Dominic casts an indifferent look toward the fresh body of his latest feed as he moves around it. “Although I must say, you should reconsider your choices of feed bags.”
Feed bags. Feed Bags. The words struck a nerve.
“This one couldn’t last a minute.” He points to the paled body by his leather-cladded foot.
“But maybe that wasn’t why you picked her, right?” Dominic wonders with a casual wave of his hand, eyes casted to the ceiling as he feigns mulling over the charm this servant must’ve had on the ninth imperial.
Just barely does he manage to fight rolling his eyes. He hasn’t the faintest clue as to what could he have possibly missed during the century that has turned the already-inadequate council then into an even more pathetic and meagre council now. At the rate they are going at, he might not have to scheme anything at all, when he has his work cut out for him. Although that rips away most of the pleasure he’s promised himself as he swore his vengeance on them, having them grovel to be saved from the very own grave they’re digging might prove just as pleasurable. Nevertheless, he slides back into his reverie, ready to shake Atticus’s world upside down.
“I have quite the suspicion, she had served you some other purpose.” Dominic continues, a dance found in his steps as he steps around and over the formerly alive human in a leisure pace. “As I fed from her, I couldn’t help but notice,” he turns now, facing Atticus’s paling body, “her body was full, voluptuous even--, and I haven’t, for the life of me, heard of any human serving here in the palace, that was not malnourished.” Dominic then starts inching closer, and closer, and Atticus stifles the urge to take his steps back.
“Now, I won’t question how this one human received special treatment. No, no. I was too enraptured with how I had her straddle me, the curves of her body, the press of her flesh against mine.” His eyes are now wide in conspiratorial fever, voice dropped to a hush as if he was letting Atticus in on a secret, one that they both know is Atticus’s very own.
“I, my friend, couldn’t resist the sounds she was making. How she was begging me to stop--”, He, now, directly stands before Atticus, hands hovering delicately in the air between them as he continues whispering all the things he’s done to her. “I couldn’t help it. That plum mouth of hers--”, he halts, locking eyes with Atticus, before releasing his recital all in a whispered sigh, “I just knew it would do wonders in other bulging parts of my body.”
Atticus convulses in places, breath audibly hitching. “You lowly son of a bitch.”
A sinister grin breaks onto Dominic’s face. A grin so gleeful, it has the entire pearly set of Dominic’s teeth on display.
“That’s how you like them, don’t you? Low, filthy, and human.”
Atticus’s body is hot and cold, driven into a highwire of faulty orders shooting from the brain. Dominic’s tauntings are urging him to fight, but Dominic’s very own smile is urging him to flight. He hasn’t the faintest idea when it grew warm, but his body’s decided to break into a sweat on its own accord.
This could not end well for him.
Just when Atticus had believed the hell Dominic was casting upon him was close to over, the cursed imperial only manages to step even closer. Rattled, Atticus’s breath quivers as he watches Dominic bring his hands, ever-so-slowly over to Atticus’s shoulders, brushing and patting off nonexistent molecules in slow motion.
Then, he meets his eyes.
“That is why you fucked the other human. Their leader.”
Atticus knocks the nearby lamp as he stumbles into the wall.
How in the unworldly earths did he know that? Who betrayed him? And he wasn’t even the only one from the council who did.
“Ohh yes, dear Atticus. I know.” Dominic sing-songs it as he pushes Atticus further into a corner. Both a physical and mental one. Atticus didn’t believe it possible, but Dominic’s smile was only growing larger with every stress-inducing acclamation.
“You know the saying sleeping with the enemy? They hadn’t meant it quite literally, dearest friend.” Dominic beams, patting--almost slapping Atticus’s cheek in mocking affection. Like the little creature before him has immensely amused him.
A knock from the other side of the door steals the chance for Atticus to answer, and he can’t tell whether he’s relieved for the interruption or further startled. His hand starts shaking until he has to fist them by his sides as he keeps his eyes on the imperial before, who might he add, will not stop springing surprises on him.
Just from what hell did they let him break loose?
The door is then opened, and to Atticus’s horror as he turns over his shoulder to glimpse the latest surprise, he finds Dominic’s familiar, Raphael, in his human form by the door. Right underneath his slung arm is—
Atticus’s blood runs cold.
Under Raphael’s arm, another Atticus blinks back at him. Another..him. An exact carbon copy.
“What in the names of heaven!”
In the wake of his terror, he steps back, away from his other copy, knocking straight into the danger himself. Steadying him, Dominic braces Atticus in his arms, leaning closely in to whisper by his ear.
“Goodness, Atticus. Don’t tremble so much.” Atticus’s heart palpates as he feels every particle of his being coming undone. If it was any more possible, Atticus finds Dominic leaning further into his ear, into his space. “I’m well aware I can’t lay a finger on you, least not yet.”
Atticus can’t feel himself breathe. The third imperial continues to keep Atticus between his arms. With the hush and delicacy of Dominic’s sickly wicked voice, one would think he’s whispering sweet nothingness into his fellow imperial’s ear.
“So I figured I’d simply show you how your dishonesty looks as a color on you.”
Then, on cue, the version of Atticus braced under Raphael’s arm starts twitching and sputtering. Violent shudders bring him to his knees, and loud wheezes and gurgles sound from his bruising throat.
Atticus is well aware Dominic’s core power, what makes him the third and deadliest imperial, is his ability to muster illusions so vivid, your mind fails to deny them. And Atticus knows this is only an illusion, Dominic had just said it. But against all that, Atticus resumes to latch onto the version of him wheezing and twitching on the floor.
The false Atticus suddenly bends over, howls an inhumane noise, and in horror, black, clumpy blood drizzles from his eyes.
Saints— not only the eyes. It’s everywhere. The black fluid chokes him, escaping the throat, the nose, the ears. The shudders and wet chokes ring through the room as nothing else moves or speaks.
Atticus watches the horror opposite him, and his lungs fail to support him. His chest starts to close in, and his own choked bursts of breath start to mix with the stifled whines and howls of the dying illusion of himself. He starts to question if this is his own fear gripping him, or if the imperial behind him is using his powers against him.
Is he really choking on his fear, or is the deadly imperial deluding him into believing so.
“Lie to me again, imperial, and I will make your end ten times painful.”
Shudders rake Atticus’s being, but they don’t stop him from muttering the one phrase that would only raise more havoc on him.
“V-Valentine. You’re j-just like her.”
The name strikes a nerve. Dominic whips the other imperial toward him, hissing right into his face.
“Would you like to repeat that, imperial?”
Atticus was gambling, risking to tango with the devil, but he knew the risks. Dominic would be kissing his freedom goodbye if he even thought about laying a finger on any of the imperials.
“I-I said, Valentine. You’re a perfect fit for her. Both raised from the same h-hell—,” Atticus chokes, feeling a crushing force fold his windpipes into one another. Atticus reaches for his throat, but nothing’s there. No hands clutching at his throat. No rope winding around his neck.
But the air won’t reach his lungs.
He wheezes, collapsing to the floor as black, dense fluid pools around him. It trickles from his ears, from his eyes, from his lips. He drowns in it. His body convulses, and a meek croak escapes his quivering lips.
Unheeding, the third imperial walks over to the velvet chair he’d previously occupied and lays back. Raphael, back in his bird form, swats in the air to land on his master’s shoulder.
Nothing sounds in the room except for the wet chokes and convulsions of the dying imperial on the floor.
Dominic watches, placid and patient, as the body on the floor spasms uncontrollably among the viscous, pooling black.
Then the body stops moving.
All from an illusion crafted by the imperial raised from hell.