“Where I go and what I do is really none of your business anymore,” I retorted, trying to calm myself down from the high Lennox had delivered me moments ago. “You lost that right when you decided to rip my heart out.”
“What, and let you leave me to be the laughing stock of the vampire community? No one makes a fool out of me,” she hissed.
“Except you, of course,” I said, and if looks could kill, I would be dead on the floor.
“Where were you?” Valentina demanded, closing the distance between us.
“None of your business,” I replied, narrowing my eyes. “If you want to scream about it, that’s your prerogative. I have business to attend to, so scream somewhere else, preferably out of earshot.”
“You can try to hide the truth from me all you want, but your little whore already told me everything. I bet she opened her legs just as easily as she did her lips. You can try to fight me all you want, Elias, but you are mine. You will never be free of me. And the longer you try to deny it, the more hell your life will be. You can pretend with her all you want, but you will NEVER love anyone else.” Valentina stormed out like usual, slamming the door so hard it shook the room. I’d never been happier to see her go. Once I was sure she wasn’t going to barge back in, I got Lennox from the bathroom. She seemed upset.
“What’s wrong?” I asked but I already knew where this was heading.
“This is just too complicated and I know it's not your fault but this,” she said, pointing back and forth between the two of us, “this can’t happen, because even when you do get that heart, she will never stop looking for you.”
“Don’t... please, can we talk about this once all this dust has settled? A lot has happened today with Arina and Valentina we are both overstimulated. Just stay with me tonight and if you still feel the same in the morning then I will let you go. Just one night... we don't even have to do anything. Just let me hold you.” I pleaded, pulling her into my arms.
“Why? Elias, give me one good reason why and I will stay.” She looked into my eyes practically begging me for a reason good enough.
“You are the first thing in a long time I have been sure about. Is that good enough? For the first time, I have something to look forward to when I complete this. For the first time, I have a second shot at love and if you walk out and turn this into something strictly professional, I will have nothing to count on.” She didn't say anything, just pulled me down to meet her lips. I knew that what I felt for her right now wasn’t love but if this is just what it felt like now I was eager to see what it felt like later on down the road. “Does that mean you will stay?” I questioned after the kiss broke.
“Elias, you may not be able to love me, but I think I have been in love with you since the second I laid eyes on you.” If my heart could do back flips, I think with those words it would have. I heard footsteps again and while I know I should have pulled away, I didn’t. The three knocks on the door told me it was Ramsey and I bid her enter.
“Glad to see mom and dad have made up... but in other news, I have the third task and well... this one is pretty much to the point. The only problem is whether or not you are extremely thirsty,” she said, handing me the slip of paper.
“To save a life or take a life, the choice is yours to make. From the person whose fate you decide, an item you must take.”
My stomach sank. In all my years as a vampire, I was never able to feed from the vein without draining the body dry. And this was asking me to save them. I wasn’t sure I had it in me.
“What is it, Eli?” Lennox whispered, still clutched to my side.
“I don’t think there is a way I can do this right. I have never been able to walk away from a living human.”
“Hey, these tasks aren't meant to be easy, and that isn’t true. Ramsey is a human and you haven’t fed on her so there is your start.”
“Yeah, don’t worry Elias; you got this.” Ramsey patted me on the back. “Just let me know when you want to go out and handle this one. For now, I am gonna get started on task four because someone has gotta keep the faith alive.” She winked and exited the room. I pulled Lennox in closer, resting my forehead on hers before I heard it. In unison, we both shot up to meet each other's eyes and then the smell hit us instantaneously.
“Blood,” I said, feeling my fangs begin to protrude.
“Ramsey...” Lennox gasped before speeding out the door, with me following close behind. I could feel the instinct inside of me telling me to find the source and quench the gripping thirst inside of me and when I finally found it, I saw Lennox cradling it in her hands, crying.
“This is your test, Elias…. you have to heal her.” she sobbed. “Heal her or she will die.”
“Just let me eat it, Lennox.” From the corner of my eye, I could see Valentina smirking, waiting for me to mess up. Then I saw Lennox follow my eyes.
“Do you think your brother will forgive you when he hears that his fiancée died because you couldn’t control your hunger? This is your future sister... don’t let her die, Elias. Show some compassion.” Something snapped in me and I was able to compose myself. I dropped to my knees in front of her, opening up a vein in my wrist before taking her into my arms and feeding her. Soon the almost lifeless woman began breathing at a normal pace. “Take her to my room,” I commanded Lennox, she looked back at Valentina and quickly obliged. “The two of you will stay with me for the time being.”
“And what makes you think they are safe with you?” Valentina chimed in taking small strides towards me. “After all, they have to leave that room sometime.”
“This is a threat I am only going to make once, Val... if you harm either one of them again I will take my own life because I would rather be dead than stuck in this dungeon of a home with you another day. Those girls are my friends. Deal with it or say goodbye.” She looked scared for the first time in her life.
“What did your guard mean by this is your test?” She recomposed herself. I was hoping she didn't hear that.
“Lennox was talking to me about how she has learned to curb her need for killing humans. We have been working on willpower, something you know little about.”
“I won’t touch them again if you do me a favor...” Valentina replied.
“Don’t ever talk about killing yourself again. Contrary to popular belief, I do love you and the thought of you not existing hurts.” Her eyes began to well up with tears. It was the first time in over 500 years I had seen a glimpse of the woman I used to love, but it was too late. This half of the heart had died and the hurt in her eyes did nothing for me.
“Fine. Have a good night, Valentina,” was all I said before running down the corridor to my room. I came in, expecting the worst, but I was relieved to see Ramsey coming out of it. Lennox’s face held so much worry, and I was genuinely glad that for once, I was able to curb my appetite and control myself.
“Wh-what happened?” Ramsey asked, trying to sit up. Lennox pushed her back down, admonishing her for trying to move.
“Valentina took a leap off the deep end and attacked you. I…”
“He saved your life,” Lennox finished, smoothing Ramsey’s hair. “He was able to hold back and he saved you.”
“I’m not gonna be a vampire, am I?” She asked, her voice clearly displaying worry.
“Just try not to die anytime soon,” I said jokingly, and that garnered a weak smile from her.
“Does that mean the quest is complete?” Ramsey questioned, and I paused. I hadn’t thought about that.
“I… I don’t know,” I replied, frowning. “That’s not what’s important right now. You need to rest.”
“Not without getting you one step closer to being free,” she said with a pout. She fumbled with her necklace for a moment before handing it to me.
“There,” she said, close to succumbing to sleep. “It’s for you,” she added, closing her eyes. Lennox looked at me, her eyes watering.
“Thank you,” she said in earnest, wiping the tears away. “You didn’t have to save her, but you chose to… and that means more to me than you know. Can we move her somewhere?” She asked, and I nodded. I asked a guard down the hall where she was staying and I carried her there with Lennox following me. I left a note for Ramsey saying if she needed anything, that she could call for us and that we’d be right there, and I went back to my room with Lennox.
“I had no idea Valentina would do that,” I said once we arrived. “I know she’s crazy and possessive and utterly evil, but to attack Ramsey, even if she doesn’t know the truth about who she is… I didn’t see it coming.” I slammed my fists on the desk, causing Lennox to jump.
“It’s not your fault,” she said, trying to grab my arm, but I pulled away from her.
“Don’t you see?” I asked, nearly shouting. “It is my fault. As long as Valentina and I are bound and as long as she is alive, this will never be over. She will never leave me be, which means anyone in my company will be subject to her torture.”
“Elias, we choose to be here. We know the risks and we still stand by you, because it’s the end goal that matters,” Lennox said, framing my face with her hands and forcing me to look into her eyes. “She may be batshit insane and cause you to want to rip your own throat out, but we will stand beside you until the end. I won’t leave you, not now, not ever…” She said, resting her forehead on my chest. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I cupped her face and pressed my lips to hers hard, trying to push everything out of my mind but the taste of her soft mouth. Sure enough, the fire started under my skin, washing away everything but the feeling of her lips working against mine. I moved us back toward the bed, laying her down slowly before stripping off my shirt.
I crawled up to her, enjoying how wide her eyes became at the sight of me moving up her body. Her lips met mine once again, and the fire resumed, burning down every thought, every protest, every argument against us. I moved to kiss her neck, and she sighed deeply as I did so. My hands traveled up her shirt and she made no attempt to stop me, only working her hands through my hair. I kissed her from jaw to stomach, and she sat up only long enough to remove her shirt and bra. We took a second to unclothe, and her eyes grew stormy with desire. I loved watching her watch me, the adoration in her eyes almost tangible. I made love to her, slowly, sensually, passionately, and when we were finally spent, she curled up next to me, and I slept better than I had slept in a thousand years.
I awoke to sunlight streaming through the curtains. It took me a second to realize that my room didn’t have curtains, and then I remembered the night before, how Elias and I had slept together. I blushed, recalling the details. I rolled over, and my heart dropped when I saw he wasn’t in bed next to me. I wondered where he’d gone to, but before I could get up and put clothing on, Elias came in quietly, carrying breakfast on a tray. He looked up to me and paused as he closed the door.
“Thought you’d still be asleep,” he admitted with a sheepish grin. I absolutely adored that smile of his, and I sat up in bed, gathering the covers around me so I didn’t show anything. Elias noticed and gave me a sly grin.
“No need to be so shy,” he commented, setting the tray on my lap. “You’ve got a beautiful body that’s becoming my favorite work of art.” I couldn’t stop the blush from creeping across my face, and he grinned. “That blush of yours… It’s intoxicating,” he said, laying beside me and trailing his fingers across my arm. I shivered at his touch which made him smile.
“You enjoy the things you do to me, don’t you?” I asked, and he only grinned wider. “You like getting a reaction out of me.”
“Only because they’re my drug of choice,” he replied.
“Don’t you have a job to do?” I asked playfully, and he frowned.
“Valentina can ruin vampires all by herself. She doesn’t need me. My time is better spent here, doing this,” he said, moving the tray to the table beside us so he could crawl on top of me. He left lazy kisses on my mouth, cheeks, and neck, trying to move further down before I stopped him.
“Elias,” I protested with a laugh, and he growled at me. He moved to get dressed while I ate. After I was done, I quickly pulled on my clothes, giving him a kiss before heading for the door.
“Where are you going?” He asked.
“To check on Ramsey. Even though you told Val that we were staying with you, and even after we moved Ramsey to her room, I wouldn’t put it past her to make a second attempt on Ramsey’s life,” I said, giving him a tight smile. I slipped out and headed to her room, relieved to see her up and moving around.
“Hey,” I said, and she turned to give me a smile.
“Hey,” she replied. “You’ve got to tell Elias I said thanks for saving my life. I didn’t see Valentina before it was too late. I really owe him one for saving me.”
“You do more than enough just helping him with the trials,” I replied, giving her shoulder a light squeeze. “He really appreciates the help, even if he never says it. We both do. Are you feeling alright?” I asked, genuinely concerned.
“Yeah,” Ramsey said, giving me a warm smile. “Feeling like a million bucks, actually. I was gonna start on divining the next task.”
“You sure? You just got attacked last night and almost died…”
“I’m sure,” she assured me. “I feel fine, honestly, and helping free Elias from that evil bitch’s grasp is the only thing that matters right now. The sooner we’re free, the better.” I bit my tongue, not bothering to argue that we’d never be free of Valentina.
“Alright.. well I’ll leave you to it,” I said, meaning to leave, but she stopped me.
“Actually, I have a favor to ask. Usually, I work alone, but… If you could help me this time, I’d appreciate it. It may seem that I’ve been getting the tasks faster and faster, but I’ve had to exert twice as much energy each time because they’re getting harder to get.”
“Anything you need,” I replied.
“Just need you to sit with me and let me borrow some energy. I’ve got these herbal supplements for afterward that help restore energy, but I don’t know how well they’ll work on you… never tried ‘em on vampires.” Ramsey took a seat in the middle of her floor, and I took a seat opposite her. She lit some candles she had nearby and slowly slid a ring off her finger, the weird eye and teeth one I’d seen when we first met. She took deep breaths with her eyes closed, holding the ring in her open hands, cupped together side by side as if she were holding out an offering. I felt silly just sitting there until I felt the air crackle around us. I went to ask what was wrong, but her eyes flew open, completely white. The ring no longer sat in her hands, instead floated above them as the glass eye darted around between the teeth as if it were seeing for her.
To say I was freaked out would have been an understatement, but I didn’t want to break Ramsey’s concentration, especially because I didn’t know how it would affect her. I sat quietly, waiting with her as she did her thing. I wondered what she had meant by borrowing my energy because I hadn’t felt any different, until I did. One second, everything was normal, but the next, I felt something slam into me, almost like a gust of wind so strong it could knock you down. I immediately felt hungry and tired and drained, ready to feed and then sleep for a week. Ramsey’s lips moved as if she were talking, but no sound came out. I felt like I was being dragged to the ground by some invisible force that I couldn’t fight. And just as suddenly as it had begun, the sensation ended, leaving me exhausted. The ring slowly floated back down into Ramsey’s hands, and she closed her eyes, breathing deeply for a minute or so before opening them again. I half expected to see the pure white eyes again, but they were back to her normal light gray shade.
“Sorry,” she apologized softly as she moved to grab the supplements. “I know that was probably freaky for you. I would have warned you, but we would have missed the time slot.”
“Time slot?” I asked as she set an opaque purple pill on my palm before taking one herself.
“Yeah,” she replied, taking a swallow of water from a glass before passing it to me. “I can’t explain it well, but there are times that work better for seeing than others. Some time slots are an absolute no go, and would probably kill me with the amount of energy it would take to work in them. But some time slots, like that, are much better.” She dug through a drawer by her bedside as I swallowed down the pill. It tasted like dirt. I almost choked, and Ramsey turned to me, worried.
“That tastes like crap,” I said, setting the water down.
“Hm. Tastes like berries to me,” she said, sitting back down with a pad of paper and a pen. She quickly scribbled something down on the page and ripped it off before handing it to me to inspect.
“Lies are easy, truth is hard; a fine line lies between. From someone whom you have deceived, a token you must glean.”
I looked to Ramsey, and she just gave me a shrug.
“Can you run that to him while I clean up here? I’ll head to the library after that if you need me.”
“Alright,” I agreed, getting up and moving to the door. “Just be careful,” I reminded her, pausing at the door. “Even though she agreed to leave us alone, I wouldn’t put it past Valentina to try something again.”
“I’ll be careful,” Ramsey replied. “You be careful too.”
“Will do,” I said, saluting her before walking out. The walk to Elias’s room seemed longer than usual as I thought about the task. I knew that everyone lied, but it made me wonder who Elias had lied to and why, thinking that maybe it was me. I shook my head as I approached his door, trying to break that train of thought loose.
I entered to see him poring over some books at his desk, completely absorbed in his research. I wondered what he was reading as I quietly closed the door. He looked up to me, a heartbreaking smile forming on his lips.
“I was about to send Jackson to find you,” Elias commented, leaving his desk to saunter over to me.
“Ramsey was able to get the fourth task,” I said, hugging him lightly. He pulled back, a serious look on his face. I handed him the scrap Ramsey had given to me, and his brow furrowed as he read the task.
“How am I supposed to know who this means?” He asked, pursing his lips. I scoffed.
“So you lie so often that you can’t remember how many people this task may mean?” I tried to stop my anger from leaking into my question, but I didn’t do too good a job. Elias took a step back, assessing me.
“I’ve lived for over a thousand years, Lennox. That’s a lot of time, and I’ve not always been the saint you see before you.”
“Have you lied to me?” I asked bluntly, and Elias pursed his lips again.
“Yes, but it was back before I knew I could trust you. Since then, I’ve told the truth about everything and corrected the lies I told before. Everything you know is the truth. And I won’t lie to you about anything. Just ask, and I will tell you whatever you want to know, with complete honesty.” I searched his eyes and could see he wasn’t lying.
“So then who is the task talking about?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Elias said with a sigh. “It could be anyone. I wish it gave me more of a hint. The last three have been fairly easy or just happened to fall into our laps. This one could take forever.” He sighed again and I could see his spirits falling. I closed the distance between us and hugged him tightly.
“Even if it does, I’ll be here helping you. We’ll get through this.” He looked down into my eyes, and I could feel the spark igniting between us again. My heart started to beat hard, and I wondered if there would ever come a time when he didn’t have this effect on me. I hoped not. He leaned down toward me, and I couldn’t take my eyes off his soft lips. He was inches from pressing them to mine when a knock on the door scared us both.
“Sir?” Jackson called from beyond the door, and Elias pressed his forehead to mine for a moment before leaving me.
“What is it?” Elias asked, opening the door.
“Valentina wants a word with you in her room,” Jackson said solemnly, and Elias gave me a sad look, mouthing ‘sorry’ before heading out, leaving me alone with my thoughts.