Leila nuzzled into Nikoli as he cradled her in his capable, strong arms. The amulet was gone. She was sad to see something that once belonged to her grandmother gone, not so much because of her magic. Her grandmother had told her that her magic couldn’t truly be destroyed. The devastation showed plainly on her face as Gabriel gloated in obvious delight at her pain. He was a sick man, far beyond the reaches of humanity. She felt sorry for him and also angry that he seemed to take so much pleasure in destroying the lives of others. What a terribly sad, lonely life for anyone.
“I hope you enjoy your humanity while it lasts, for it is fleeting. Especially for you, Nikoli. Maybe you should have spoken up instead of choosing to let your human woman decide your fate. Personally I would have chosen immortality.” Clapping his hands together once, and a little too loudly, he smiled at their confusion.
“What do you mean by Especially for you, Nikoli? Won’t he just be human now?” Leila spouted off, her expression one of unconcealed shock.
Gabriel laughed a booming, belly laugh.
“I don’t see what is so amusing,” Leila balled her hands into fists and stood up, her knuckles turning white.
Gabriel wiped tears from his eyes, his laughter subsiding into little guffaws, “Wow! Even magical humans are gullible. Who knew? Of course he’s not going to just be human, you foolish girl!”
Nikoli tried to stand up, but groaned as his knees gave out. Leila was back by his side, holding him on the ground, in an instant.
“What’s going on? You owe me an explanation!” Her voice faltered as she yelled at him, choking back her fear.
Gabriel pointed his large, godly finger at her as his eyes glowered at her, “I owe you nothing you insolent girl! How dare you question me! You. Made. Your. Choice! Now live with it.”
Nikoli coughed weakly into his hand, turning slowly towards Gabriel.
“Please...Please tell me what is happening to me,” Nikoli rasped out, coughing at the effort it took to speak.
Gabriel’s eyes flashed with something that Leila couldn’t quite discern. It looked to her like regret, but it was so brief that she couldn’t be certain. The god-like vampire crossed his arms over his chest, debating with himself silently, muttering incoherently before nodding.
“You let her choose for you to be human. You are over 200 years old. Do you understand, Nikoli? Or must I spell it out for you?” He said this calmly, respectfully, as if he was talking to an old friend.
The mood change unnerved Leila. They really are quite temperamental, these creatures. She watched Nikoli’s face as the realization of what Gabriel was saying dawned on him.
Leila still felt like she was fumbling around in the dark. “What is it, Nik? What’s going on?”
He paled and nodded at Gabriel, letting out a shaky breath. “I’m sorry, my friend. You should have chosen differently. My hands were tied.” Gabriel patted Nikoli on the head as if he were a small child and shot off into the distance, disappearing through the trees in the blink of an eye.
Leila was still waiting on an answer. She was running out of patience. She saw the sadness in his eyes as he finally turned to look at her, a strange knowledge lurking there.
“Leila...I will not survive this change to human form. I am too old.”
“...But...But…What?,” Leila furrowed her brows in frustration, somehow still not grasping what he was trying to say.
“I am going to die and now that you’ve given up your powers, there’s nothing you can do to stop it,” his eyes were full of sadness, his face one of reluctant acceptance.
Leila shook her head slowly, vehement denial written all over her face, “No! I will not allow this. This can’t happen. Fight it! Fight for us!”
Nikoli’s face crumpled as tears welled up in his already crinkly eyes. Leila could see him aging right before her eyes. His hair was turning salt and pepper, wrinkles made his face sag, even his hands knotted up with instant old age. She couldn’t lose him! Not now!
“I cannot fight this, I’m afraid. Neither can you. I don’t want to go, but I’m glad I finally found you. I love you, Leila. More than you know.”
That was the first time he had said those words to her and she felt too choked up to respond. Swallowing the lump in her throat, her voice hoarse with unshed tears, she petted his hair and kissed his lips chastely, lovingly.
“I love you too…” Hugging him to her, she held on for dear life. “Listen to me, Nikoli. You cannot die. You will not die. You will stay with me and we will grow old together. We are meant to be! That has to count for something!”
Salty tears ran down her cheeks and fell upon his head as she called silently for her grandmother’s help.
“Show me the way. Help me save him. I cannot lose him.”
He was the reason for her existence. With him, she felt like she was dancing to the most beautiful music, her whole body swaying in time with the melody of their intertwined hearts that beat as one.
“You know what to do. Trust your heart to guide you, my dear.”
Her grandmother’s voice rang in her head, making her feel more confident. Suddenly, she knew what to do. Leila concentrated on Nikoli’s heart, on making it beat with hers. She envisioned blood pumping through his veins, reversing his aging. Leila fought the temptation to open her eyes.
“If this doesn’t work, I don’t know what I’ll do.”
The familiar warmth spread through her body, making it tingle with the power that flowed into her. Her tears began to glow as they continued to rain upon him, making his whole body glow. Her wrists began to feel like someone was puncturing her with small needles, but still she forged ahead, doing her best to ignore the pain that made her cry out.
“What the- ?” Nikoli’s shocked voice caused Leila to open her eyes, only to discover that they were floating in the air, encircled by the violet-silver light energy.
Nikoli was bathed in the glow, his eyes wide and his mouth opening and shutting wordlessly. Leila gasped, almost letting go of him, but catching herself before she dropped him. As they continued to stare at one another, she witnessed the changes in his appearance. He was no longer aging. In fact, it was reversing itself, returning him to the way he looked when she had first met him. When it was all over, they were lowered to the ground by the strange light, still holding each other’s hands.
“I don’t understand, I thought that you gave up your powers. Weren’t they in the amulet?” Nikoli whispered breathlessly, finally having found his voice.
Leila smiled as she understood just then what her grandmother had meant all along.
“Your magic can never truly be gone.”
Tears welled in her eyes, from relief and happiness this time. Squeezing his hands, she pulled him into a hug, wrapping her arms tightly around him.
“My gran was right. My magic was in me all along. The amulet was just a piece of jewelry.”
Her wrists hurt when they made contact with his shirt. They felt raw and made her inhale sharply with pain. Pulling away from him, she decided to take a look only to discover that they were marked with the same symbol as her necklace had once bore, complete with purple and green ink. Leila smiled up at Nikoli, as he in turn smiled at her. They had braved the once thought insurmountable odds and had found love. As they kissed passionately, clinging to one another like those who had overcome great tragedy Leila felt that they were going to be okay.
As far as Nikoli, no longer was he lost at sea, his heart aching and full of regret, his soul no longer tainted by all his bad deeds. For that he was thankful. He was determined to make her happy and to find out what all this prophecy stuff meant, but mostly he just wanted the pleasure to wake up next to her beautiful smile every morning. The ride was thus far bumpy and an emotional roller coaster for them both right now, but at the end of the day they had one another to cling to, like a life raft adrift on the open sea. That meant that everything would be alright. He felt it in his undead bones.