Igor, the Guard he had taken with him today, opened the door and he entered. The two receptionists who were on duty immediately got up and took a deep bow.
“I am here for the monthly inspection”, the Council declared.
The two vampires nodded and one of them grabbed his iPad while Igor handed him his. The device asked for his permission to accept a file, and he did. Seconds later, the punishment schedule for the day popped up on the screen. Unlike other supernatural beings, vampires had no calms about adapting to human technology and using it for their purposes. Some vampires even helped to develop them.
“Looks like we’ll pay our old friend Leon a visit today”, the Council let the Guard know. Leon’s torture was scheduled next, and he had made it a point to take on at least one punishment session himself whenever he visited the vampire prison – image cultivation.
The two headed towards the back of the shop, crossed the fake reception room, and he activated the hidden mechanism in the coffin that was on display by turning one of its golden handles. Without making a sound, the coffin swung aside, revealing a broad staircase that led down into the dark.
“The artist who was stupid enough to turn his lover without the consent of his councilor?”, Igor asked, his voice full of contempt. “His sentence is served soon if I recall correctly.”
It took him a moment to get his memory sorted out. Over fivehundred years’ worth of names, numbers, and occurrences of all sorts took their toll.
“You do”, he eventually agreed. “The two hundred years will be over by the end of this November.”
When they arrived at the massive iron double door that served as the actual entrance to the prison, the Council entered a code into an App on his iPad and the gate opened. Agonized screams, moans, and pleas for mercy greeted them, uttered by the handful of prisoners that were put on display on both sides of the foyer. Each vampire was strapped to another torture device, giving new inmates a small glimpse of what awaited them inside. After a few days, the prisoners were switched out. By the look of it, this circle had just started. There was barely any blood and gore covering the flooring.
“Council”, the guard overseeing this part of the prison welcomed him, his features paperwhite.
Judging by the weak aura he exuded, he couldn’t have been made more than ten to fifteen years ago. This must be his first shift. The whole prison staff was changed out every four months, each of the twelve Councilors dispatching the same number of guards from their clan to ensure a balance of power. It was also common practice to send young vampires to do their first shift as soon as they had somewhat settled into their new life. After all, nothing worked better as a deterrent than experiencing hands-on what awaited those of their kind that broke vampire law. Yet, idiocy and arrogance never ceased.
Igor put a hand on the young vampire’s shoulder and gave it a tight squeeze.
“Keep in mind that all the incarcerated are guilty of despicable crimes”, he reminded him, no give in his tone. “They are murderers and traitors. They don’t deserve your pity.”
The guard gulped and nodded.
With a last pat on the shoulder, Igor released him and caught up to his Sire. The other guards had already been informed about the Council’s arrival and the torture chamber well prepared. Leon had been stripped naked and chained to a pole, a blank canvas ready to be painted red.
The Council leisurely took off his suit jacket and tie and handed both to Igor. Crossing over to a shivering Leon he rolled up his sleeves. The convicted didn’t beg, didn’t scream for mercy, didn’t fight against his restraints. He just stood there, covered in cold sweat, and waited for the unavoidable. Not many managed to uphold such graceful behavior, knowing an unpredictable duration of torture lay before them. Then again, Leon was a long-time resident down here, familiar with the procedures – and, as it seemed, smart enough to save every ounce of strength he could for when it would be needed.
“I am afraid this will be the last time we will be seeing each other, so let us make the best of it, shall we?”
The Council positioned himself a good foot away from the convict and focused on the mental energies flickering through the room. It only took him a split second to find a way into Leon’s head, and another to lock onto his most feared and painful memory: the capture and execution of his lover. He pushed the recollection of the events to the forefront of his victim’s mind and blocked every other thought, forcing him to relive those events over and over again.
There it was, the fighting against the restraints, the begging, screaming, and crying.
“No! No! Please, no! Please spare him! It was all my fault! Please!”
Leon’s glossy gaze saw right through him, caught in a day two centuries ago. Features distorted into a mask of pure agony, Leon shouted from the top of his lungs while watching the one person he had sacrificed everything for going up in flames.
“Please, I love Gregory!”, Leon cried, bursting into tears. “I love him!”
Out of all useless emotions, love was the most useless one. It made you dependent, vulnerable, and clouded your judgment. It was dangerous. Nobody knew that better than himself.
“That’s the problem, isn’t it? That’s why you are here. Love”, the Council repeated tauntingly. Merely speaking the word out loud repulsed him.
“Please, he is innocent!”, ignoring his comment, Leon continued desperately pleading for the life of his lover, oblivious to the futility of his attempts. “I broke the law! I am the one to blame!”
“By changing your lover, you made his very existence a violation of the law”, he softly reminded him. “Only Clan Lords and I, the Council, have the authority to turn humans. You knew that.”
At that, Leon flinched.
“Now, your lover has to suffer for your indiscretion.”
The memory was almost at its end, Gregory’s pained screams fading. Soon, he was nothing more but a charred corpse on a pole.
“No! Gregory, no! No! God, please, no!”
Leon turned towards the Council.
“You heartless monster!”, the prisoner spat, bracing himself against his restraints like a madman. “You killed him! You killed him!”
The last sentence was blurred by a vision pushing to the forefront.
The Alpha King watched the execution of Alpha Caleb, a satisfied grin on his lips.
The visions didn’t show him everything from beginning to end, just snippets, but they usually sufficed for him to work out the rest on his own. The Alpha King hadn’t given up on bringing Caleb down, he had come up with a Plan B. Perfect. Just what he needed!
“You were the one who sucked him dry in the first place, not me”, the Council noted matter-of-factly, not letting show that the focus of his attention had shifted. After almost four hundred years of practice, it had become second nature to him to simultaneously have a hold on his actions in reality, examine his visions and manipulate or wander in the minds of others if necessary. It still required a tremendous amount of concentration on his part, always would, but he wasn’t bothered or confused by it anymore.
“All I ever wanted was for Gregory and me to be together as equals. Where is the crime in that? Where?”
“You could have made him your blood mate”, he replied, spoken without any compassion. “As long as you lived, he wouldn’t have aged or died.”
While he physically spoke to Leon, he reached out to the minds of Igor and a few of his brethren, ordering them to arrange a phone call with Caleb as soon as possible, prepare his jet for a flight to Canada and make the necessary arrangements medical wise. He planned to turn Maya and make her his blood mate as soon as they reached Arundel Castle.
“But he would have remained human”, Leon countered.
“One cannot have everything.”
A bitter life lesson better learned early on. Sadly, Leon never had.
Rewinding the memory to its starting point, he started Leon’s torture anew.
The moment I saw Caleb’s black wolf watching me from the other end of the garden, our Beta Elijah at his side, I had a bad feeling. There was something dark and definitive in his gaze, something that radiated an uneasiness I had neither felt from my dear old friend nor my trusted Alpha before. Elijah’s huge, brown wolf was no different. It sent shivers down my spine, yet I stood frozen in place, unable to move the slightest inch.
Follow me. Don’t shift. Don’t use your wolf senses. Don’t talk to us.
It wasn’t the first time my Alpha had reached out to me via our mind link, but his voice had never sounded so hard and cold before, so distant. It was almost as if some sinister entity had taken over Caleb’s body, as if the wolf that stood before me was a stranger – even though I knew that was impossible. Not even the strongest magic could imitate the bond that connected a wolf to his Alpha.
Caleb’s wolf turned around and vanished between the trees, Elijah on his heels. Unable to disobey the command of my Alpha, I took off my gardening gloves and followed him. Despite it being a fairly pleasant sunny afternoon, I hugged myself and rubbed my upper arms in an attempt to fight the shudders that wrecked my body. My skin itched and I wished I could call upon my wolf as well. When in my animal form, unpleasant emotions such as sadness or fear didn’t have the same impact they had compared to when I was my human self – which was why I had spent the first three weeks after John’s death aimlessly roaming the woods while hiding under my wolf skin. Unfortunately, shifting wasn’t an option. My Alpha had forbidden it.
What, in the name of the goddess, was he planning? Why wouldn’t he tell me anything? Why wasn’t I allowed to call upon my wolf, let alone use my wolf senses?
Since Caleb had only forbidden me from speaking to him and the Beta, I reached out to my father’s mind, hoping he might be able to provide some answers. Instead of the usual warm welcome, however, I was met with a wall of silence. My heart skipped a beat as the most obvious reason for my failed attempt to reach him hit me like a sledgehammer: Death. But as the initial shock died down, I felt that there was something behind that wall, felt that my father wasn’t unconscious or worse.
It took me a second to make sense of what just happened, to understand that the only explanation left was that he was deliberately blocking my call – my own father was ignoring my mental call for help! I tried reaching my mother, then my siblings, but the result was the same: an impenetrable wall of silence blocked my way. All sorts of alarm bells started ringing in my head, and my heart pumped in my chest like crazy. Something was wrong, terribly wrong. Why would they all block me? What was going on here?
Minute after minute ticked by as we diverged further and further from the village into the heart of the forest. Being limited to nothing more than my dull human senses felt weird. All I could hear were the birds in the sky, the occasional rustle of leaves from close-by trees, or the soft whisper of the wind – no comparison to the beautifully diverse symphony of sounds I was used to hearing all around me. All I could see was what was close by, my eyes unable to reach what was more than a couple of meters away. All I could smell was the fresh scent of the forest, devoid of any specific nuances. That’s how it must feel like to be under the influence of wolfsbane.
By the time Caleb finally stopped in his tracks, the sun was already setting. We were still in the middle of the forest; no mountain, stream, clearing, or anything special in sight that would explain why he had chosen this place or what was going to happen next.
Keep walking, my Alpha commanded.
I gulped and obeyed, the unsettling feeling in my gut reaching its maximum as I passed by him and our Beta while both kept staring at me with dead eyes. A weird sensation made my skin crawl, and I realized I had just crossed the border of our pack’s territory.
From this day, you are not a member of my pack anymore. I hereby ban you from my territory.
An invisible force swept me off my feet and I landed a couple of feet away from where I originally stood, my head pounding from the impact of the fall. Panting and shaking, I pushed myself into an upright position, trying to understand what just happened.
Don’t return. You are not welcome here anymore.
The black wolf’s dark eyes met mine, devoid of any emotion, as the Alpha let out a warning growl to underline his words.
“W-what ... what is the meaning of this, Caleb?”, I asked confused.
“Don’t worry. I will take good care of her”, a familiar voice reached my ear. The Council had appeared out of nowhere right beside me.
The vampire bent down and hurled me back on my feet, but before I could say a word, something sharp prickled my neck and I immediately felt my whole body growing heavy, my mind shutting down with a speed that was concerning. Fighting the tiredness was the same as trying to catch the wind, a battle I had no chance of winning. I vaguely noticed the Council lifting my limp body into his arms, then all lights went out and I was plunged into total darkness.
A young woman with long brown hair threw me a bewildered look. I raised my right hand, expecting her to do the same – she was my mirror image, after all. Instead, her form blurred and was replaced by a big brown wolf. Confused, I looked at my hands that were still human.
The animal let out a high-pitched howl. It was hurting. I couldn’t detect any physical wounds on its body though. I tried to step closer in an attempt to soothe the wolf, but my way was blocked by the glass of the mirror. Instinctively I pushed against it, hammered at it with my fists, but nothing happened. The cold glass under my fingers wouldn’t budge.
Suddenly, a fierce pain exploded in my chest. It felt as if someone had clasped a hand around my heart and was brutally squeezing it. I let out an agonized scream, but strangely, no sound would leave my lips. My eyes widened in horror when the wolf’s form slowly started to fade from the edges. Somehow, I knew once it was gone, it would be gone forever.
The pain got worse with each passing second, spread over my whole body until it felt as if I was ripped apart from the inside out. Soon, I wasn’t strong enough to stand upright anymore. I sank to my knees, my mouth still open in silent screams, my hand still desperately hammering against the glass.
Something dripped on my nightgown. There were two ruby red dots on the white fabric.
With a trembling hand, I searched for its origin, which turned out to be my nose and my ears. Horrified, I looked from my blood-covered fingers back through the mirror. The legs and half of the wolf’s face had gone up in smoke already, and the image had become blurry. My eyelids grew heavy, my strength was dwindling.
Goddess, how could glass be so thick? Why couldn’t I break through? Why?
Trapped on the other side of the mirror, I could do nothing but helplessly watch the rest of the brown wolf dissolve into nothingness. When he was gone, so was the last bit of my energy and my body slumped to the hard, cold ground.
I was surrounded by lavish, heavy-looking fabric. A lot of lavish, heavy-looking fabric. It was hanging from the ceiling all around me, and under the palm of my hands, I could feel an intricately embroidered blanket.
“Where … where am I?”
The answer wasn’t long in coming, so I seemed to have spoken my thoughts out loud.
“Arundel Castle in England”, was the unsettling reply. “Your new home.”