Days after Dante’s discovery, Valeria and Isaac caught him sneaking around the sorcerers’ coven’s cabin. It was then that the siblings realized that Dante knew not only about Valeria’s betrothal, but their ultimate secret.
“Leave this place, Dante,” Isaac hissed and shoved Dante.
Dante stumbled and gritted his teeth as he cut his gaze toward Valeria. There was an unrelenting glint in his eyes as he took in the obvious anxiety rattling through her body. She bit at her nails, watching as the two quarreled.
Dante couldn’t let Valeria go and secretly, she relished in that fact. He was the knight in shining armor and she was the damsel in distress.
Valeria stepped in between them. They halted in midsentence and Isaac stepped back with a grimace.
“He knows, Val,” Isaac hissed. He pulled his fingers through his hair and then flung a pointed finger toward Dante. “He knows. This is all fucking—”
“Isaac,” Valeria whispered. “Please…”
Her heart hammered up in her throat and sweat began to collect at her temples.
She couldn’t imagine what Dante thought.
But fighting wasn’t the answer. Valeria couldn’t allow that.
“How…how did you find out?” Valeria turned to Dante with quivering lips. “Dante, please. You have to understand—”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Dante’s fists clenched at his sides as he thought his next words carefully. “Why…why didn’t I know? I thought we told each other everything.”
“This isn’t something I can share for the sake of being honest,” Valeria said and then reached out for him.
Dante shied away from her touch, unsure of how to react to her.
Valeria’s jaw dropped. “This was about survival, Dante.”
“I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you, Val.” Dante gritted his teeth. His hands spasmed at his side. “How could you not tell me if I was willing to do everything to be with you—forever?”
“Dante,” Isaac intersected. “She was following orders.”
“Orders? From who?”
Dante’s jaw clamped shut. His eyes widened as he looked between Isaac and Valeria, pure astonishment filling his expression. “You? Who the hell are you to do that?”
“I have no reason to tell you any of this,” Isaac hissed. “This has nothing to do with you.”
“The hell it does!” Dante shouted. “I find out that the love of my life—the one I want to call my wife—is betrothed and a witch! In just a few days, my life has changed, all because you couldn’t tell me the truth.”
Valeria trembled under the accusations. Looking back, she believed that she should’ve told him. Maybe then they could’ve fixed this. She didn’t want to marry Thomas. She didn’t want to play a part in her parents’ plans. She just wanted to be with Dante.
She turned herself away from them to hide her tears. Dante faltered in his fit of anger, but was thrusted back into the red haze when Isaac stepped into his line of vision.
“This has nothing to do with you.” Isaac iterated every syllable. “There is a dynasty of magic that needs to continue and it won’t stop because of this. Valeria will marry Thomas—and you will let her. You will go on about your way, saying nothing about what you’ve learn, and try to move on.”
Dante darted forward, throwing his fists into Isaac’s chest, and tumbled to the ground with Isaac’s collar clenched in his fists.
Isaac punched at Dante, hitting him in the shoulder with one fist and then in the face with the other. Heat rose from Isaac’s fingers, followed by sparks of light that momentarily blinded Dante. Isaac shoved the human off of him, rolled onto his knees and pushed himself to his feet.
Dante cursed lividly as he hunched over himself on the ground and batted at his face, which stung with light burns from the flames.
Valeria grabbed at Isaac, who seemed ready to attack Dante once again as the man groaned through the pain of the burns.
“Please, stop,” she whispered.
Isaac shrugged her off and moved to Dante’s side. “Stay out of this, Val. Go home.”
“No, I can’t.” Valeria grasped his arm again and held on tight. Isaac looked down at her hand and then turned his gaze to her face, where several tears pooling at the corners of her blue eyes.
“Please, don’t hurt him, Isaac. Please.”
“This needs to be settled,” Isaac said, then dropped the volume of his voice. “He needs to stop coming to us.”
“You’re going to hurt him to do that?” Valeria turned her gaze to Dante, who stared up at them from his kneeling position.
The skin around his eyes were split open with burns and blisters. A trickle of blood dripped from one side of his face. Tears gathered in his eyes.
Valeria’s heart shattered. She dropped to her knees in front of Dante and grasped his face in her soft palms, wiping at the tears that now flooded down his cheeks.
“Please, just leave him alone, Isaac,” Valeria whispered.
“We can’t have him interfering anymore.”
“Then…then he won’t.”
“How could you do this to me, Isaac?” Dante asked through a thick voice as he stared at Isaac. “How could you do this to your sister?”
“She’s known her fate since she was little, Dante.” Isaac turned an accusing eye on Valeria, who shrunk under the gaze. “We never thought it would get to this point.”
“And you?” Dante stood and steadied himself against the exterior wall of the cabin. “Were you just fucking with me the entire time? Was I even your friend?”
“Of course you were—” Isaac stuttered for a moment. “Look, that doesn’t matter anymore, Dante. Some things are more important than friendship. Both Valeria and I have a destiny to fulfill—unknown to humans. Now one of them knows. We can’t let that continue.”
“So you just expect me to forget about you two?” Dante grimaced. “How am I supposed to do that? I’ve spent most of my life with you two.”
Isaac steeled his emotions and stepped in front of Valeria. “That can’t be helped. You need to leave.” Isaac’s frame covered Dante’s view of Valeria, but that didn’t stop Dante from hearing her faint whimpers.
Dante gritted his teeth so hard it felt like his skull would split. He closed his eyes briefly, taking several deep breathes to control his anger.
He then moved until he was inches away from Isaac. They stared at each other with their eyes leveled.
Isaac hissed, “Go.”
“We’re not done here, Isaac,” Dante spat. “Not if I can help it.”
Isaac didn’t believe that Dante could do much else but bitch and moan—but Valeria knew that if Dante wanted something horribly enough, then he would find a way to have it. Underestimating the charismatic, spoiled rich boy of a family who all but abandoned him with their own agendas was probably the worst thing to do.
● ● ●
Valeria woke up by an intrusion of her room. Dante barged in with his face darkened with fury and his fangs bare. He paced around her bed, muttering to himself.
Her eyes fluttered as she mustered up the energy to push herself into a sitting position.
Hearing her struggle, Dante paused and took in her ghastly appearance. There was a lack of color to her skin and there was little light in her eyes. Her body shook with each movement as if just by breathing she was exerting too much energy.
“What’s wrong?” Valeria asked as she studied Dante. For a brief second, a wave of dizziness overcame her and she nearly fell back against the pillows.
Valeria felt Dante’s hands wrap around her shoulders and the weight of his body press into the bed as he sat down beside her.
“What’s going on?” Dante’s whispered as he cradled her in his arms. “How long have you been feeling like this?”
“I woke up like this,” Valeria said. Her eyes fluttered as she turned to focus on his face. In the split second that Dante saw her irises, he balked. They were bloodshot and filled with little black scratches of veins.
“I…I don’t understand.” Dante roamed his hands over her, feeling her forehead, testing her heartbeat, and then settling his touch on her face. He held her head in his hands and pulled back her right eyelid to fully see the condition of her eyes. “Your eyes are turning black.”
“What…th-that doesn’t make sense,” Valeria croaked. “I need to lie back down.”
Dante laid down, bringing her against the length of his body. He made every movement with calculated gentleness, afraid that even one underestimated action would harm her. After she relaxed against him, Dante opened up his heightened senses to her, and balked.
Her skin radiated the faintest smell of decay and her heart was pattering at a rate just above dead.
Valeria stared into his eyes, which darkened with anguish upon the realization.
“I figured,” she whispered.
“But…why? You’re bound to Isaac—”
“By soul. Not the body.”
“But shouldn’t the soul animate the body? It does with the vampires—”
Valeria cut him off with a humorless laugh, which then turned into a coughing fit. “After all these years, I thought you’d figure out the truth about your kind. You’re not human anymore, Dante. That’s why you don’t age. Your soul is tainted inside that body of yours. It’s how it’s been since the very first vampire.”
“How would you know all of this?”
“Accounts from sorcerers who’ve passed down the information through the centuries,” Valeria said. “There was so much information about vampires that we couldn’t help but to hate them after learning it.”
Dante fell silent. He knew that Isaac had a vast knowledge of the supernatural world, but forgot that Valeria, too, had studied mysticism, and wondered just what she meant by what she said.
His phone rang from his pocket then and Dante fished it out. A message from Conner told him the time of day and asked for orders. He replied and the pocketed the phone, returning his attention back to Valeria.
“There has to be some way to save you.”
“There is,” Valeria replied, then went into another coughing spree. This time, she clutched her mouth and the scent of fresh blood filled the air. Dante grabbed her hand, pulling it away from her face to reveal the essence splattered over her skin.
Her body went limp as she tried to respire through ragged breaths.
Why was it happening so quickly? He wondered if Isaac’s escape and possible activities could be causing part of it, or the entirety of it at all.
“Baby,” Dante whispered.
Valeria’s face twisted in astonishment at the word and Dante almost felt bad for letting it slip. Almost.
He caressed her cheek. “Baby, please. Let me help you.”
“No,” Valeria scowled. She swallowed and touched Dante’s cheek. “No. You can help, but I don’t want that.”
“Want what?” Dante frowned. “This? My abilities.”
“It’s a curse, Dante.” Tears gathered in Valeria’s eyes. “You don’t understand, it’s a curse.”
“No, listen to me.” Valeria reached her other hand to caress the other side of his face. Dante leaned into her touch, closing his eyes. “You are damned. All of you—damned.”
Dante jolted. His eyes flew open. “Damned? I’ve lived for a hundred years! I have riches that I never knew I could attain. I command an army. I have powers that seemed impossible to be able to possess. How am I damned?”
“You’re damned to dwell in the darkness. You’re damned to feed on the living. Your soul is cursed and tainted by the demons that have plagued this earth for thousands of years,” Valeria said. “I am sorry, my love. I…I can’t want the same fate.”
Dante sat up in the bed, staring down at her with wide eyes and a heart that seemed to rip at the seams in his chest. “You…you wouldn’t want to be with me? For eternity?”
“That is everything I’ve ever wanted, Dante.” Valeria smiled at him through her tears, though it was weak and pitying. “In the life before this, where we were all friends and my family still lived, we were taught such gruesome things about vampires. The last thing I want to be is that.”
“Ah.” Dante’s shoulders straightened and tightened. He didn’t know what to say to that. What could be said? That she was wrong? Then he would be condescending—because she was right. Vampires were devils in human skin.
His heart thumped up into his throat as he took a deep breath and pulled out his phone again. “I will have to send some aids to watch over you while I take care of the escape.”
“Will you kill him?”
Dante looked over his shoulder at Valeria. How could she still care about Isaac? The brother that had commanded them to be apart; the brother who tried to erase Dante’s memories of her and failed.
Dante gritted his teeth and felt his fangs dig into his gums. Deeply breathing again, he answered. “If I have to, I will. He was supposed to await judgement from the Prince of the area.”
“So you do answer to someone.” Valeria mused aloud. “From how you were presented when I first woke up, I had thought you were the top dog.”
Dante saw through her guise as she tried to lighten the mood.
“Nope,” Dante mumbled. “If I had been, I would’ve killed Isaac the moment I saw him.”
“Then what about me?”
That was a great question. Dante had several back-up plans for Valeria: having someone turn her before he killed Isaac. Having Valeria take off the seal before he killed Isaac. Or just hold him prisoner until they were unlinked.
All were answers that Valeria would attest to—and all didn’t matter now that she was dying anyway.
So Dante sighed, shrugged, and stood, looming over the other side of the bed. He looked down at her, trying to withhold his feelings as he studied her appearance and all its details. “You know I had hoped that our love would be enough for you accept my gift.”
“It’s not a gift.”
“I understand how you feel,” Dante retorted, then stopped himself before he let loose his temper anymore. He wiped his hand over his face. “I love you, Valeria.”
“I know,” Valeria said. Her tone fell into a whisper. “I love you too, Dante. But…”
Valeria nodded. Tears fell down her face again as she sucked in a breath. “I understand that Isaac is a menace. I…I never thought it would turn out like this. I just wish I could turn back time.”
“I had thought that sorcerers were capable to do such things.”
“No one is capable of that, Dante.”
“Then what?” Dante scowled. “Is there anything else that we could do to help you?”
“There are ways, but none that are capable in our circumstances.”
“So, you would ask me to let you die?” Dante flew his hands in the air, exasperated. “Why? Why would you want to die so easily, Val? You wouldn’t want to fight to live?”
“Why should I when my fate was decided for me the moment I agreed to help you with Isaac?” Valeria frowned. “This is unnatural and I shouldn’t be alive right now, Dante. The balance is making up for it.”
“The balance?” Dante scoffed. “Some far-off theory is doing this to you? I fucking doubt that, Val. We could save you—just let me.”
“No,” Valeria retorted. “I can’t. I can’t do that to myself. I’ve seen what it’s turned you and Isaac into. I can’t be that.”
Dante turned on his heel and headed to the door, finished with the conversation.
There was nothing wrong with him as a vampire. Isaac on the other hand had lost it on his own, with or without vampirism.
He stopped at the door, shooting a glance over his shoulder at her. She stayed in the position he left her, feverish and breathing heavily. His jaw clenched as he stopped himself from turning around and going back to her and said, “I’ll have someone come up in the next few minutes. We will make sure that you are taken care of, Val. I swear that to you. In the meantime, I will also try to find a way to cure you, with or without my gift to you.”
Valeria didn’t reply, but watched him slam the door behind him as he left.
A sob choked through her raspy breathes and coughs. It was so tempting to accept Dante’s offer that she was ashamed of herself. Doing such a thing was suicide—unforgivable and damnable. It was an injustice that no one could forgive.
Just as it had been an injustice to Isaac when Dante turned him.