The castle is much larger than I first thought, it takes me two weeks to explore the entire place. I find the old stones enchanting, especially when they are accompanied by old paintings and tapestries that hang off the walls with pride.
I find an old tapestry, of a woman, with eyes that beckon the viewer closer. She sits with three children, two boys and a girl.
The woman is beautiful, with a long neck and high facial features, her eyes are green like jade and her hair is dark and pulled back.
“My mother,” My father says, suddenly appearing at my side, “You look a great deal like her.”
I turn to look at him and I can see her face in his.
“She’s beautiful,” I say, then I look to the children, one so evidently my father, youthful with a bright smile on his face.
And then there’s Rakin, his face is dark and his eyes are like stone.
“Who’s that?” I ask, looking to the little girl.
“My sister,” my father says, his eyes glued to the tapestry, “You’ll meet her tonight.”
“Tonight?” I echo, looking to my father in confusion.
“She wants to meet you,” he says, guiding me down the hall, “There will be a celebration tonight, there will not be many, humans and a few trusted vampires.”
I nod my head in agreeance and then we stop by an oil painting, one of another woman, but she looks eerily familiar, with her alabaster skin and light hair with shining eyes like river stones.
“Who is that?” I ask, looking over the woman and her extraordinary face.
“My wife,” my father says sadly, “My first love.”
There is another painting of the same woman with children in her arms.
“How were you turned?” I ask, wondering what happened to his first life.
My father looks off, becoming distracted by his thoughts.
“My father left when my siblings and I were very young,” he says, “my mother became the tribe leader until I was old enough to take over. My father left to seek a higher power, he wanted to be stronger and more powerful than his enemies. So he fled into the mountains where it was rumoured a creature lived, one more powerful than the gods and able to break men in half with minimal effort.”
My father places his hands behind his back as he walks and takes me through the other paintings until we stand in front of a large man with eyes of stone and muscles as thick as an ox’s.
“He found the man,” my father continues, looking up to his father with distain written on his face, “Then he returned to the village, years after my mother had passed and I had become leader. I had taken a wife and she had gifted me with three beautiful children, which was a rarity in those days.”
My father’s gaze darkens, as he speaks his fangs become longer and prominent in his speech.
“He killed them,” he finally says, his eyes turning red as the echo of screams resonate within him, “When I refused to join him, he killed them all, then turned me and my siblings into monsters.”
A tear slides down my cheek, I can feel the anguish inside of me as if it were my own family that I had lost.
“Rakin relished in the bloodshed that came with being turned, he followed my father everywhere,” my father says, “Whereas I fled with my sister after father had burned down the village and devoured everyone within.”
“Enough questions for today,” my father says, “Your aunt will be here any moment.”
Downstairs, in my father’s throne room, there a vampires and humans mingling.
I don’t feel uncomfortable here anymore, the vampires here don’t scare me, in fact, some of them I consider to be friends.
The room is brightly lit, it glistens off the diamonds hanging off the gold chandelier. Everyone is dressed beautifully, with rich silks and bright colours. Music floats through the hall, delicious music played from the musician’s nest above, from instruments and not a speaker.
It’s all so beautiful it brings tears to my eyes, never in my life had I thought I would see something so beautiful.
The doors open and another group of people enter, led by a woman so tall and beautiful the room looks dull.
My father stands from his throne and strides towards the woman, embracing her tightly with a laugh.
“Oh, is this her?!” the woman says as her eyes land on me.
“Yes,” my father says, stepping back to turn to me, “Rowaelin, this is your aunt, Inez.”
I remember her, there is a distant memory in my mind that recalls seeing her face as she cooed at me from above.
“The last time I saw you, you were just a babe,” she says, crossing over to me and taking my hands in her’s, “Look how you’ve grown. Oh, you have your mother’s smile, and your father’s face.”
The vampiress laughs and looks me up and down, and gasps.
“And there,” she says, tears forming in her eyes, “Those eyes, like your grandmother’s.”
“Alright,” my father says, putting a hand on his sister’s shoulder and pulling her back, “That’s enough overcrowding.”
“But she is just so wonderful,” she says, her eyes turning back to me and shining, “I want to know everything!”
I like her, she is boisterous and kind, she doesn’t look at me with sad, sympathetic eyes. She doesn’t ask me about the past seven years; instead she asks me about me, about my likes and dislikes, about my thoughts and feelings.
We talk of education and about the last time she saw me, and it’s nice, it’s nice to talk of something other than my torture, it’s nice to think of something different.
There’s a knock at the door.
It bangs loudly and with authority. All heads turn towards the massive wooden doors that are slowly swinging open.
“Sorry I’m late,” a vampire says, striding into the room as if he owned it, causing all to fall still, the music stops and eyes turn red.
“Get behind me,” my aunt says, her soft demeanour turning cold and ruthless.
“Seems you forgot my invitation to this family gathering.” His voice sends a shiver down my spine and my body turns cold.
“Get. Out,” my father’s cold, calm voice snarls, “you are not welcome here... brother.”
The vampire places a hand over his heart in mock hurt, as he laughs.
“Mother would be appalled,” the vampire says.
Inez steps back, pushing me closer to the wall, hiding me behind her body. I peak over her shoulder, Alec is on the other side of the room, and between me and him; he stands.
Rakin is just as terrifying as I remember, tall and solid, with ivory skin and dark black hair. His face is high and sharp, with a strong jawline that frame a face that’s like chiselled marble.
Standing behind him are his vampires, his protégés and theirs, some I recognise, like Thana and Amal, but most are new faces to me.
My heart is racing, I cannot calm myself, my body trembles like a deer trapped in a snare.
“Dearest sister,” Rakin says, turning his eyes on her, “won’t you stop hiding our niece so that I may look at her again.”
My aunt hisses at her brother like a cobra, her fangs lengthen, threatening Rakin without words.
One of Rakin’s escorts charges, his fangs bared and his hands reaching for Inez.
The vampire is too young to ever hope to defeat her, but that was not his plan. He draws my aunt away from me, having her tackle him like a mountain lion unveils me and as she kills the young vampire, she seems to realise her mistake.
Rakin crosses over to me in the blink of an eye, he drags me to the middle of the room where he was standing and holds me in front of my father.
“Mmm,” he snarls, nosing at my neck, “How I’ve missed you.”
Tears fall from my eyes, fear courses through my veins, my legs tremble as Rakin wraps his arms around my waist.
“Let her go!” my father snarls, his voice like a thunderous roar as he stands from his throne.
I look to my father, pleading for him to save me, begging him to stop his brother from taking me back into the darkness again.
My father races down the steps of his dais and stands in front of his brother, the king’s eyes are red like fire and his fangs are extended, yet Rakin doesn’t tremble before the king, he tightens his grip on me and his fangs brush against my skin.
“Have you tasted her?” he asks, his voice soft like a whisper.
My father snarls like an angry lion, Inez now stands behind him, growling also.
“Let. Her. Go.” My father makes it clear that he will not ask again.
Rakin knows that he is outnumbered, his grip on me loosens and he pushes me into my father’s arms. My father immediately pushes me behind him, where Alec appears by my side.
“Don’t take her anywhere, Alec,” Rakin says, his eyes still on me, “She’ll be leaving with me tonight.”
My blood turns cold and my mouth runs dry, surely he can’t.
“She won’t be going anywhere,” Inez snarls, lunging forward only to be held back by my father.
“I’ve claimed her,” Rakin says, “Go ahead look at her neck, that’s my claim.”
All eyes turn to me, to the scarring on my neck, the one that will never heal.
“It’s sacred vampire law that a claim is to be honoured,” Rakin says, his voice full of cockiness.
“That law is not recognised here,” My father says, not even looking to the scar, he keeps his eyes on his brother, his muscles tense for a fight.
“It’s father’s law.”
“Father is dead,” the king roars and I notice how his nails extend and sharpen to talons, “Leave now while you still can.”
“Cute display brother,” Rakin mocks, not fazed by his brother’s threat, “but you and I both know that you can’t kill me, none of you can.”
Inez snarls several foul curses at Rakin, still being held back by my father.
“Rowy,” a voice sings my name and when I look up, Thana’s eyes are on me, “Come here.”
No one else seems to hear her voice calling to me.
“Come, love,” she sings, her voice like a melody to a song I didn’t know I was missing.
Thana stares right into my soul, her voice tugging on my spine, beckoning me to walk back into her arms.
“Come home,” she calls.
That’s not my home, she is not my home. Though part of my brain seems to be turning to mush, I’m still able to dig my heels into the floor and keep my place behind Alec.
“Come now!” she snaps, her grip on my spine tightens and I feel nauseous as I take a step forwards, stepping out from behind Alec.
No. No. No. I don’t want to be doing this, I don’t want to go back to her.
I grit my teeth and try to fight it, why is no one seeing what she’s doing? Why has no one noticed?
No one is going to save me from this, no one will put their arms out stop me, and so I must.
I dig my heels in once more, gritting my teeth so hard that my gums ache dully.
“No,” I snarl, finally catching attention as I pull back against Thana’s call, “No.”
Power rockets through me, pulsing out into the room and gaining the attention of everyone.
“I will not go with you,” I snarl, a gasp fills the room in response, “you don’t own me.”
Rakin stares me down, his eyes turning red in irritation as Thana’s voice still calls in my head.
“Stop it,” I snarl, pinning my eyes on Thana as a sense of bravery fills me, “Stop speaking.”
A ripple takes over Thana, as if she were a lake that a stone was dropped into. She winces as if I’ve slapped her and groans as blood spills from her mouth.
“What are you doing?” Rakin asks, staring at me in amusement and confusion.
I look to him, and when our eyes meet he too flinches, it’s small and barely noticeable, but I see it.
“Let’s go,” Rakin says, looking to his ensemble, he then turns back to my father and says, “I’ll be back in two days to collect her, make sure you say your goodbyes Tristane.”
The vampires leave, in a blink, they’re gone, the only evidence that they were here at all is a single drop of blood from Thana’s mouth.
“Rowy,” my father breathes.
When I turn to him my head feels light and disconnected, like it could roll off my shoulders at the slightest turn of the head. Fear returns to my bloodstream and my knees buckle as I fall to the floor, suddenly exhausted and drained of energy.
Italy is boring, any vampire here is stupid and found easily, I’ve killed five already and helped to uncover a nest hiding beneath the city. I miss Rowaelin, every day I check to see if her tracker is working again, I still have hope within me that she is alive and that she will come back to me.
“We did well tonight,” Rose says, as we walk into our shared hotel room as the sun starts to rise.
Over the past weeks, I’ve grown accustomed to Rose, she isn’t as bad as I initially thought and is, in fact, an excellent hunting partner.
Most mornings when we drag our tired asses into the hotel, we just collapse onto the closest bed together and fall asleep, and yet this morning she seems peppy and more awake than usual.
“Nightcap?” she asks, grabbing a bottle from the mini-fridge.
She and I take one drink, but then one turns to five and the next thing I know is that we are both wide awake and fooling around drunkenly.
“Come on, you have to find me at least slightly attractive,” Rose pesters as she leans on me.
“I mean... sure I guess, you have nice breasts and a perky ass.”
There’s a silence for a moment and then she looks at me through her long batting eyelashes.
“Do you want to feel them?” she asks, leaning forward so her breast push out more and I can see down her top.
Rose crawls into my lap and kisses me, her lips are warm and taste like alcohol, her tongue brushes against my lips and then she kisses me deeply as her hands unbutton her shirt.
Rose exposes herself to me, she grinds in my lap and I can’t help it. She is a woman and she is attractive, she wants me and why can’t I have her?
Rose is experienced in bed, the way she moves is intoxicating, the way she uses her mouth is tantalizing. Her breasts bounce with every thrust, in the end, I drive her to climax by seeing how hard I can make them bounce.
By midday, Rose is curled into my side, sleeping soundly with a smile on her face.
Suddenly, an app causes my phone to chime, the sound causes my stomach to drop and I scramble towards it, waking Rose as I grab my phone.
There, on the screen map, is a red dot, alerting me to Rowy’s resurfacing.