Dante paced through his office, watching as the sun fell below the tree lines beyond the perimeters of the estate. Just as the last rays of the day disappeared, he called for Connor.
Connor entered in silence, watching as Dante paced the lengths of the room.
“Master,” Connor said. “What will you have us do?”
“Kill him,” Dante replied, then slapped a hand over his face. “No, don’t do that. I want him dead, but that isn’t possible right now. Capture him again – and her. Make sure she’s shut up until we find something to do with her.”
“Wrap him up in so many chains so he can’t move an inch,” Dante hissed, turning his back to his secondhand. “And muzzle him. I don’t want a word out of him.”
“And if we can’t get him by the time the sun rises?”
“If—if—” Dante squeezed his eyes shut and cursed under his breath. “There can’t be a mishap again. The Prince will have my neck. He doesn’t even know that Isaac escaped.”
“I see,” Conner said. Within an hour, all their forces were to go out into Independence and find Isaac and Korinna. “What will you be doing, Dante?”
“I’ll see to the estate.” Dante kept his back turned to Connor, keeping his plan vague. “Don’t worry about me. Worry about Korinna and Isaac.”
“I will,” Connor said, then excused himself from the office. He left, shutting the door behind him, and headed toward the front of the estate, where other vampires began to collect.
Dante paced for a minute longer and then stopped in front of his desk. His mind jumped around, plotting against Isaac and thinking about Valeria.
If only she would say yes to his request.
If only he knew some other sorcerer to help her.
If only she wasn’t dying.
He closed his eyes and breathed, keeping ahold of his composure. It had been so long and so hard waiting for this woman, and now she was dying, and he could do nothing about it.
No, he thought. No, I can’t let this happen.
So instead Dante cleared his throat and picked up his phone, calling a number he hadn’t dialed in a while.
A voice answered after a few rings.
“Duke Weshlan,” a female voice purred. “It is a pleasure to hear from you.”
“I need some things from you,” he said, ignoring the pleasantries. “And I need them fast.”
“I am at your service, of course,” the woman said. “But for a price.”
Dante sighed. “What will it be?”
“That is still to be decided.” The woman clicked her tongue. “For now, I’ll do what you want.”
“I have a dying sorceress in my company,” he said with a rush. “She won’t take the bite and her soul is bound to another vampire.”
“Sounds…delicate. I will see what I can do,” the woman said, then ended the call.
Dante stared at the phone in shock and then pocketed the cell phone.
Then he left his office, leaving the door wide open, and headed toward Valeria’s quarters.
It didn’t matter if she didn’t want to see or hear him out.
Dante would make her see reason, one way or another.
● ● ●
Dante found Valeria sitting in a chair at the far end of her bedroom, watching the sun set from the windows. Her ashen face had trails of tears running down her cheeks.
When he entered the room, she didn’t respond.
He made his way over to Valeria and knelt in front of her.
“Val,” Dante breathed. “I’ve someone that might help you.”
“How?” Valeria muttered and wiped her tears.
She avoided his stare, looking anywhere but his face.
“That doesn’t matter,” Dante muttered as he reached out for her.
Valeria halted him with her hand and met his eyes. The branches of black had darkened and deepened into her pupils, consuming the beautiful blue oceans within her irises.
Dante’s breath caught in his throat. “It’s…it’s all my fault.”
Valeria sighed. “It’s not all your fault…If anyone is to blame, it’s Isaac.”
“Not after all I did.” Dante shook his head. “Not after what I’ve done to you.”
Valeria chewed on her lip, but said nothing. There wasn’t much to say. Defending him would be lying. He did after all betray her trust and destroy everything she loved.
But so did Isaac do the same to him.
“It doesn’t matter anymore.” Valeria closed her eyes and exhaled, whispering, “I…don’t think I’ll last much longer…”
“No matter what, I’ll save you before it can get to that.” Dante gripped her hand inside his and drew her attention to him. It was the first time she let him touch her since he entered the room, and for that, he was grateful. “I swear to you, Val. I’ll make up for what I’ve done.”
It was then that the tears fell more heavily than before Dante entered the room. She sobbed, falling against him and clutching at his shirt.
“I don’t want to die, you know,” she whispered with a raspy voice. “I don’t think anyone wants to die.”
“Then join me.” Dante pulled her chin to stare into her deep blue eyes. “Please, join me. I’ll make up for the last century, I swear to you.”
“I can’t. I just can’t.”
“Then we’ll see what my someone has to say when they arrive,” he reassured. “If anyone knows what to do, it’s her.”
Dante wasn’t entirely sure if that was true. The woman, a modern sorceress, had helped the clan several times over the years he had known her. But that was a while ago and it had been a long time since Dante last spoke with her.
He ushered Valeria to the bed, situating his body against the headboard so that she could lay across him. Though she was hesitant about it, Valeria did lay next to him.
“I love you, Val,” he whispered into her hair and held her close. “I wish I could make this up to you.”
“Just be with me until I go,” she said.
Dante paused as a tear streamed down his cheek. He cleared his throat, stroking her hair. “If that’s what you want.”
“Yes,” she whispered. “And…and leave Isaac alone.”
“You know I can’t do that,” he said. “He can’t be left alone now.”
“Not even until I go?”
Dante pursed his lips and repeated, “He can’t be left alone.”
His hands roamed from her hair to the sides of her arms, warming her up as she shuttered at his touch. It was a bittersweet comfort to be within each other’s embrace. Dante feared her foreboding death and yearned for her continuous warmth, while Valeria was glad to be cared for in her last hours.
They laid there without knowledge of time, dwelling in each other’s presence. Valeria relaxed against him and while she wheezed with each breath, she soon drifted off into a motionless sleep. Dante kept his attention on her heart rate and continued to running his hands over her hair, her back, and her arms, soothing her as she slept.
He would stay there until the end, Dante decided. Connor could take care of the Isaac situation, at Dante’s command.
Dante just prayed that the witch would come in time.
● ● ●
Dusk came. Isaac and Korinna stood on the front porch of the dead man’s home, watching the last rays sink down past the horizon. Its purple and orange swirls mixing with the dark clouds was rather beautiful, but only had Korinna’s attention.
Since direct sunlight had dropped down below the tree-lines, Isaac stood at the top of the porch’s steps, watching the sky, deeply in thought.
Korinna debated ways to get out of the town; no matter how many times Isaac told her, she still assumed that, just like her, Isaac wanted to escape Independence.
She hummed to herself, staring at his back from a rocking chair settled in the corner of the porch.
Instead, Isaac thought of ways to attack the vampires, whom he knew Dante would send out once the sun set.
He wouldn’t be surprised if Dante had already sent his coven after him.
Several strategies accumulated in his head, all brutish and fast-paced. For instance, he could hide out in the forest surrounding both the town and Dante’s estate and take down every vampire that came after him, attacking from the trees, then head for the estate again.
Or he could play hide and seek in the town, instead of the guerrilla-warfare idea he tossed around.
Either way, he needed to cut down Dante’s numbers. From the estimation he made during the last battle and his captivity, he thought that the clan’s numbers were around thirty to fifty. He gave the population a wide berth for the vampires that did not join Dante’s hunt. Isaac had also cut down about fifteen to twenty vampires before Dante captured him.
Isaac glanced over his shoulder at Korinna, who rocked in her chair with her eyes closed.
“How many vampires are there?” He asked, breaking the calm silence.
Korinna cracked an eyelid and shrugged. “I dunno. Probably forty.”
“Are they mostly fledglings?”
“Could be,” she muttered. “I didn’t pay too much attention to them. Although, we do get some new faces every so often.”
“Some?” Isaac growled. “Give me a number, succubus.”
“Probably around two to five.”
“There are rules for the vampires.” Korinna shrugged again. “Dante gets permission from the Prince and then he recruits.”
Isaac fell silent, contemplating her words. Really, it didn’t matter which action he took. He could go to the forest and attack from there, then retreat to town if needed. Threatening the exposure of vampires to the humans of Independence needed to be a last resort.
Isaac turned on his heels and headed toward the door.
“Get ready if you want to come, but I’m heading out,” he snapped at Korinna before slamming the door behind him.
Isaac entered the kitchen, where the dining chairs sat legless against the farthest wall. On the table were several handmade stakes and several kitchen knives, all of which he collected and dumped into a duffel bag.
He then moved to the kitchen sink, crouched, and opened the cabinet underneath. There sat an array of cleaning supplies. He browsed through them, looking for labels for acidic cautions. Isaac pulled three spray bottles from the cabinet and dumped them into his duffel bag, then zipped it up.
Korinna watched from the hallway with furrowed eyebrows. “What are you doing?”
“I’ve repeatedly told you that I will not leave Independence.”
“I know,” Korinna scoffed. “But I never believed you. My idea is a lot better, you know. Why don’t we leave?”
“Because I don’t want to leave.” Isaac flung the bag over his shoulder and pushed passed her. “I will not leave until I finish.”
“And then what?”
“Really, it doesn’t matter what happens after that. I could go on a rampage, or leave, or die.” He made it to the front door before Korinna reached out for his shoulder and pulled him back.
“You would let yourself get killed?” Her mouth dropped. “Why the hell would you do that?”
“Why would I try to explain myself to someone who only cares for themselves?” Isaac slapped her away from him and grabbed for the door.
She stumbled back, growling, “How dare you?”
“Yes, how dare I?” Isaac scoffed and hurried onto the porch. He glanced around, watching the streets for people. A few humans walked up and down the sidewalks with smells of dog and blood rushing through their veins, and a car headed down the street. The scent of exhaust burned Isaac’s nose.
Korinna followed him out.
“You don’t fucking know me, Isaac.” Korinna bristled behind him as he continued to study the shadows.
Suddenly, smells of decay and dust burned his nose. It was from the forest, where he had predicted Dante’s mass of vampires would come from.
Isaac travelled down the porch’s steps and followed the trail nestled between his hideout house and the property next to it, which led him into the forest.
Korinna ran him, grumbling under her breath. “You’re fucking stupid, Isaac. What do you think you’re doing? Trying to get yourself killed?”
“That’s not the ultimate goal, but it’s a plus,” he retorted.
Soon, they met the boundary of the forest. The decay and dust smell intensified by then, making it hard for Isaac to breathe without gagging. Isaac’s ears received all kinds of noises, from the rustling of wind to the woodland creatures in the underbrush of the forest.
Then footsteps to his left. He turned in the direction and leapt onto the nearest tree.
Korinna stopped talking the moment his feet left the forest floor. His shape was a blur as he scaled an oak tree with his duffel bag full of weapons, spiderlike and lethal. She swallowed as she stood alone in the darkness. Anxiety settled into the pit of her stomach.
She couldn’t believe the idiot left her alone. Korinna grumbled and settled against the tree Isaac climbed, waiting, watching, and listening.
He leapt from that tree to the next one, heading silently toward the noise of footsteps and the intensifying scent of decay and dust.
Then Isaac spotted them.
A group of vampires, all seemingly young, were traveling through the forest. There were four of them, all bearing a machete, and muttering amongst themselves.
There was a mention of Isaac’s name. Isaac jumped to another thick branch, watching as they passed under his location without any detection.
That was a surprise. Vampires were supposed to have heightened senses; maybe this group of vampires did, but Isaac’s movements fell deaf to their ears.
Isaac kept back a dark chuckle and dropped down the forest floor.
One of the vampires paused and looked around.
Isaac hid behind a bush, shuffling toward them in a crouched prowl.
It was then that the vampire caught the rustling made by Isaac. He walked over to the spot and stopped just as Isaac flung himself out from the bush, hitting the vampire so hard that they tumbled onto the forest ground.
Isaac’s duffel was long forgotten in the brush, leaving him to fight with his hands. That was no problem, since he had deft fingers.
The vampire gnashed his teeth at Isaac, who avoided the vampire’s jaws locking around his shoulder by swiping his hand across the vampire’s face.
He squealed, momentarily blinded as one of Isaac’s claw-like nails had dug into the vampire’s eye.
The vampire’s companions ran at the two as they wrestled in the dirt and slammed each other into trees, roots, and rocks.
Isaac grabbed for the vampire’s head, digging his claws into the vampire’s neck to secure his hold. The vampire twisted in his hold, howling at the pain as clear cuts were made by Isaac’s hold.
The other vampires prowled the area around the two, waiting to throw themselves into the battle.
“Hold on, Rodney,” one of them hissed reassurance to their companion, who continued to fight the claws digging into his throat.
Rodney bucked, trying to knock Isaac off with a kick. Isaac dodged and rolled, bringing Rodney into a position against Isaac, caught like prey in a snake’s gripping body wrap. Rodney whined in Isaac’s hold.
Isaac stared at the other three vampires as he bared his fangs and dug into Rodney’s neck, tearing open his jugular and severing his windpipe. In a matter of seconds, the vampire’s body fell limp.
Isaac disengaged himself from the dead vampire and stood, wiping at the blood on his face.
The other three vampires sprang into action then.
Isaac dodged one vampire, swung an arm at the second, and tackled the third by the torso.
The battle went on for a moment as Isaac twisted and turned in the three vampires’ grasps, narrowly dodging and attacking like a viper.
Rodney’s blood pumped through Isaac’s veins, super-charging the blood magic flowing through his veins. It was a taboo for a vampire to drain another, but it strengthened the vampire twice as much as human’s blood.
Isaac had the advantage. His whole body blurred with unimagined speed as he wore the three down. None of them could get a firm hold on him as he slashed and tackled each of them.
He dragged one of them up a tree and bit into the vampire, draining that one of blood, and dumped it on top of the last two within a few seconds.
One of them flung the dead vampire’s body off of them and rushed out of the way, as the other one lunged at Isaac.
For distraction, Isaac thought, as he slammed a fist through the vampire’s chest, pulverizing his heart. The vampire gasped, spraying blood over Isaac’s face.
Isaac dug into the vampire’s neck, guzzling his blood, before discarding the vampire.
He watched the last vampire run off through the forest, smiling as the vampire’s body disappeared into the shadows.
Now it was time for Isaac to wait. He dusted himself off, grabbed his duffel bag, and headed in the direction he left Korinna, buzzing with violent energy.