I woke up to someone brushing the hair away from my face. Green eye looked down at me, a tan face with a thin black mustache and soap patch of a beard. I jumped up and wrapped my arms around his neck, “Fidd!”
He laughed as he hugged me in return. “Cerbera, my little one!”
Frost burst into the room, looking for a fight. “Who…? Prince Steriling? How did you get in here and why are you here?”
I faced Frost, “Fidd has permission to be here and has had it since the house was built.” I looked to the Prince, “Why are you here?”
Steriling sat on the bed, scratching Scooter’s head as the Wiener Puppy wagged his tag frantically. “Well, my dear, this Daimhin’s,” He points to Frost, “Prince has asked to gather all of the Princes for a meeting.”
“Wait, does that mean Myst and Ame are here too?”
“And Ceres and Sneg, as you would call them.” He looked down at me, his brow furrowing, “You need clothes.” He stood up and started going through my closet.
I shrugged as I grabbed the clothes he threw to me. Frost just stared, the tabby and tuxedo kittens climbing onto his lap. “How are you two so close?”
I petted Scooter’s back, as I answered him, “Fidd was the first Prince I met and he has taken care of me when I first got here. I tend to have nicknames for the Princes I meet. Fidd means Silver in Arabic and you’ll see who the other nicknames are for.” I put on the bra, then threw the dress back at Steriling, “Fidd, I don’t wear dresses and you know it.”
“But you would look pretty and Cadeyrn asked that we all wear at least semi-formal.”
“He can get over that I’m wearing jeans and a t-shirt.”
Fidd obliged with throwing a blouse and a long skirt from a paper bag on the ground. “This is my compromise, take it or leave it and we both know that it’s too cold to go naked.”
I stood up and put the clothes on. “I need to take care of this mess of hair, so if the two of you could take the monsters and feed them, that would be appreciated.”
Frost grabbed the kittens and Steriling the puppy, “We will meet you downstairs, then.”
I walked into the bathroom and ran a brush through my mid back length light brown hair. I looked at the clothes that Steriling had chosen for me and realized they fit my larger frame well. I put my hair up into a peacock ponytail, letting the ends drape to my neck. I put on my brightest red lip stain, grabbed my purse and book then headed downstairs.
“You’re giving them too much!” I heard Frost shout.
“They are growing children and need the extra energy!” Steriling replied with just as much volume.
I turned into the kitchen and stopped the fight before it scared the fur-babies any worse. “The puppy gets half a cup of food and the kittens get a quarter cup each.” They doled the food out correctly and I heard a knock at the door.
I walked over to the door and opened it. “Holly!” I pulled her into the house and wrapped my arms into hers. “I think this is everyone, so shall we head out?”
Frost’s phone rang and when he answered it, there was another knock at the door. “It’s my brother, so if you want to invite him in-”
“What? Why not? You let Prince Steriling in!”
“Fidd is a guest of mine; your brother attacked me last night and bit me.”
Steriling shouted, “He did what?!”
Holly yelled louder than everyone, “Knock it off!” Silence answered her. “Thank you.” She turned to me first, “At least the bite diminished your scent so this can happen.” Then to Frost, “She has a right to protect her home as she sees fit.” Then finally to Steriling, “You aren’t here most of the time, so when you aren’t, crap happens. Anyways, your wife doesn’t like Cerbera, even if you adore her as a daughter.” Then to the entire group, “I don’t think the other Princes’ will appreciate waiting much longer. If your brother can do the whole darkness vanish thing, then we can get there faster.” Holly ushered all of us out of the house, before locking the door behind us.
Blaze walked up to his brother, “Who are all of these people?”
Holly flicked him on the nose, “No talking until we get to Prince Cadeyrn’s manor.”
Blaze snarled at her, but Frost stopped him from lashing out at her. “Don’t. Just get us to the manor, please. I’m done with these people.”
Blaze grabbed his brother, who grabbed me, but I grabbed Fidd who had Holly. As a giant Wizard of Oz-y group, we leapt into the darkness towards the manor house.
The darkness lifted around us, setting us onto the front drive. Cam ran towards us, stopping short when he saw Frost. “Ben!” He ran towards Frost and tackled him in a hug. The two of them fell backwards into the only patch of grass within the entire yard.
Frost scrambled out of Cam’s reach as the skinny male clung to him. Holly grabbed Cam away from Frost and set them both on their feet. “Why did you call him Ben? His name is Frost and this is his master, Blaze.” She pointed to the fiery twin.
Cam looked to me, “You told me his name was Ben!” The look of betrayal that he gave me almost melted my heart. “And you didn’t tell me that he was a Daimhin!”
“He didn’t want me to tell you his name, so I gave the first one that came to mind.” I pointed to another group of vampires and their Daimhin that arrived, “Cam! It’s Drop!” I pointed off into the distance and watched Cam run towards his lover.
Frost and Blaze just looked at me oddly, before Frost shook his head and walked into the manor. The various groups met with and talked with each other, while I stood next to the door with Holly. “What’s all this about, Holly?”
“Steriling didn’t say, but I’m almost positive that it’s about you.”
“I’ve been living here for over 5 decades, so why now?”
“Have you ever met Cadeyrn before yesterday?”
I shook my head, “No, I’ve met all of these other ones, but never met Cadeyrn. What’s your intel on him?”
“Well, from what I’ve learned from talking with the other Daimhin, he’s not all that bad. He treats his people well and his area is usually incident free, so there’s very few executions. It’s rumored that he has a direct bloodline to the Dracul’s. He has amassed a very large amount of money but his ‘family’ is tiny, consisting only of the twins, his two guards, a doctor and a nurse. The nurse and one of the guards, along with Frost are the Daimhin. It’s weird because most ‘families’ are huge, especially for a Prince.” She waved to different Daimhin’s and their masters as they passed us by, she whispered, “He, himself, doesn’t have a Daimhin, and the story is that he is waiting until he finds his love to create one.”
“You gathered all of this within a day?” I smiled to different Princes and their Daimhin, many of them smiling in return.
She smiled, “Steriling gave me a lot of it.” When we were the last ones in the front yard, she turned to me, “Cerbera, even though you are the boogey monster for the vampires, you are my best friend. You have done good since you’ve gotten here, but only the Princes know that you are trying not to cause harm. For the commoners, the generals and the Lords don’t know anything beyond your reputation. That’s what makes you dangerous, more than your poisoned blood.”
“What do you suggest?”
“That you be caref-”
“Holly! Come in here!” Cam called out. I started to walk towards the door as well, but he stopped me. “I was told that you need to stay out here for now.”
“Oh… Ok.” I stayed where I was while Holly grabbed my hands and gave them a quick squeeze of encouragement before she left me.
I stared out into the xeriscaped yard, seeing a path that led off to the side of the manor. I looked to the door before following the path along the side of the manor. It went deeper into the yard, the evergreen trees creating a labyrinth around what sounded like a fountain. I could hear arguing inside the manor and figured it had to do with me, because the other Princes knew I was here, except for the single one that apparently outranks the rest of them.
I followed the labyrinth, running my hand along the spiny leaves, letting them guide me to the center. I stared at the ground, reflecting on the life I have led up to this point. I knew I was deadly, Holly did not need to remind me of that, but I have done good in this world. My tallies proved it, but was it enough? It had been centuries since I heard the priest who tried to set me on a straight path in teaching me that vampire lives mattered. He taught me that they were not dead or undead, but alive and allergic to sunlight.
I reached the center of the labyrinth, a small pool of water with large lily pads dancing from the water coming down off of the waterfall rocks. The sound was soothing and I sat on the edge of the pool. I ran my fingers through the pool water, my other hand rummaging through my purse. I pulled out the leather book with its yellowed pages and bloodied fingerprints.
I dried my hand on the skirt and opened the book, trying to ground myself from the nervousness that filled me. Holly was right, but no matter how much I try to help, me being here was a danger to myself and others. I found a few names that I never expected to see. “I need to leave…”
“Why would you want to do that?” A voice I was starting to recognize better asked me.
I turned around and faced Cadeyrn, “Because I’m a danger to these people. I love these people as family and I don’t want them to get hurt more than the damage I’ve caused. Hell, Fidd almost died when he met me.”
Cadeyrn stepped up to me, “I told you I could help.”
I took a deep breath, “It’s no use.”
He placed his hands on my shoulders, “What do you mean?”
“Think about it. The vampires I’m saving are those who were unlucky enough to find me. I mean the only one I’ve actually saved is Fidd’s Lady. She was captured by hunters and I protected her when the sun rose. I used to own a blackout cloak and I covered her completely in the hunter’s sun chamber. She’s the only one that I saved without first endangering it in the first place.” I felt the years and centuries of pent up frustrations fill me to the brim.
I looked up at him, his green eyes glowing in the dark. “What?”
“You look like you need to cry it out, so cry.”
“Why are you so nice to me?” I pulled away from him, “Two of the names in my book… They were a part of your ‘family.’ By all rights and reasons, you should hate me.”
He pulled me into a hug, “I saw their names, but they were towards the end. From what you’ve told me, towards the end of the book, you tried to save them. You couldn’t save them all-”
“But I can save the ones now, if I leave and not return.”
“What if I can tell you that I may have found a way out for you?”
I pulled away as much as he would allow me, “What do you mean?”
“The Wise Woman is in there and she told us how you can break out of your poisonous life.” I tried to pull away more, but he refused to let me go. “Before we do anything, my doctors have an idea for getting your blood. The Wise Woman told us that you can get rid of your curse by the King.” He licked his lips and pressed his forehead to mine, “The King has to drain you completely on Samhain night while it’s a full moon. Luckily, in a couple of weeks, the time will be right, but we have to do this right. If this works, you become a normal human again, but if this works, you will be drained of blood and it will kill you. It will also kill the King.”
“You want to use me as a weapon.” I spoke plainly. “I overheard that he killed Lord Elijah, so you want to use me to kill him and in return, I get my freedom from this life.”
“Yes, that’s exactly the deal we came up with. I must say that Steriling is wholeheartedly against this. He sees you as a daughter and doesn’t want anything to happen to you.”
“What are you doing with my darling?!” As if right on cue, Steriling, Holly, Frost and Blaze entered the central clearing.
Cadeyrn ripped away from me, his face a pale shade of red. “No-Nothing.”
“Fidd, will this really work?”
He grabbed me and pulled me away from Cadeyrn, “It seems like it should, but if it does, then we will lose you.”
I pulled away from him and looked between both Fidd and Holly, “I’ve been here for so long and I know it’s nothing in the time you’ve all been through, but almost 700 years of being a danger to everyone I love and care about. I just want it to end.”
Steriling walked up to Cadeyrn and grabbed him by the collar, “What are your intentions with her before the time comes?”
“Fidd! Drop him!” Steriling let the collar go and stomped back towards Holly.
“I’m planning on helping her prepare for this. Even if she is prepared to die, she needs to know to deal with the King.” He growled at Steriling, “I won’t send her to that monster without proper preparation for who she has to face!”
“Maybe, we shouldn’t send her at all! There are other ways; we can figure them out!” Steriling shouted and the group split, each side going towards their Prince, but I did not move from between the two of them.
Annoyed, I grabbed the two knives that I carried with me everywhere. I stood directly between the two of them and sliced my arms from elbow to wrist, letting the black blood stain their shoes as they did not back away fast enough. They stopped yelling at one another and stared at me as the wounds closed themselves and healed. “Now that you two are done, it’s my turn to talk. One, Fidd, I love you as a father and a friend but you will not stop me from doing this. If you truly loved me, then you would allow me this last wish. Two, Cadeyrn, Fidd gets to oversee exactly what you are preparing me with and if he can make it better, then you will take his advice. Three, I need to be around my fur-babies, because I want to spend as much time with the three of them as possible before I die.”
I walked away from all of them and started to make my way towards the front of the labyrinth. I looked into the windows of the third floor of the manor and saw vampire Princes and their Daimhin staring out at the calamity below them.
I saw an older lady standing at the front door of the manor house and she waved me over. I stepped over to her, careful not to let my stained clothes get close enough to her. “May I help you?”
“You must be Cerbera.” She smiled at me, grabbing me by the arm and dragging me into the manor house. I tried to get my arm away from her, but she was stronger than I was. She led me up the stairs to the fourth and final floor. She opened a door and pushed me inside, before following me in.
“I kinda have places to go, Wise Lady.”
“Not tonight, you don’t.” She sat me down on the ground and rummaged through her large bag, sitting off to the side of room. “I’m here to help you.”
“I’ve already been told what I need to do, ma’am.” I looked around to see the unlit candles placed in a circle around me, the furniture that would normally fill the room placed to the far ends of each corner. A layer of dust covered the entire area, telling me how often this room is actually used.
“That’s to kill yourself and the King. This is to save your soul, as you know that suicide is a sin that can damn it just as easily as the deaths you’ve caused.”
I stared at her before taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, “What do I need to do?”
“Hand me your purse, you won’t be needing it.” I handed her the purse, before spreading my skirt out in a complete circle. “Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.”
I did as she asked, taking in as deep of breaths as possible. I felt her cold fingers spread something across my eyes and down my cheeks. I could smell the rosemary and lavender in the smudge as well as the sulfur of a match as she lit things around me. The herbs were relaxing and I fell into slight meditative state. I heard the door quietly open and close, only loud enough to slightly disrupt the calm I was engaging further in.
She started to hum softly, each note calming and pulling me deeper into a dream state. Her voice carried around me, words forming in her sing-song tones, “Fire’s wings, on water’s edge. Drowning in the darkness. And the sounds of birds who sing. Allow your memories trespass. The deaths that haunt you, push you forward. Forcing you into the eye of the storm. To find a way from your curse, you must learn to forgive!”
I can feel the heat of the candles around me as the flames grew larger. Behind my eyelids, I could see them dancing. Faintly, I could hear the sound of birds’ wings as they took flight. The sound of wind and thunder vibrated around me. I could see the forest of trees that surrounded me as they appeared around me. They centered me in their midst, protecting me from the dangers outside the forest.
I recognized the forest as the one where I was captured by the vampire Catherine in her attempt to make me a blood cow for her tribe. I carefully stepped through the trees until I came upon a clearing. On the other side of the clearing was a large waterfall and pool, a stone obelisk sitting in the pool. I walked towards it, stepping into the ice cold water. I tried to reach the waterfall, but the water was too deep for me reach it. I walked back to the towering black monument, noticing the inscriptions carved into the smooth stone. I ran my fingers down the names of the vampire’s that my blood has killed. I looked for the tally marks that would prove that I was on the path to redemption but I could not find them.
I circled the obelisk, before getting an idea. I tried to push down the column, but its obsidian stone unwavering under my touch. Someone placed their hand over mine, adding their strength to mine. I looked to see Cadeyrn looking down at me. Can’t push it down on your own, so I’m going to help. He spoke softly, even though his mouth never moved. Together, we tried pushing, but it still did not move. He whistled and others gathered around us, Fidd, Holly, Cam, Frost, Blaze, the other Princes and their Daimhin. All at once, we pushed the obelisk as hard as we could and the tower of obsidian crashed down into the pool.
Everyone vanished from around me as I investigated the hole it created. The calm waters of the pool filled it in, submerging the fallen obelisk completely. The waters became calm again, save for the falling water of the waterfall. I used the submerged obsidian to walk towards the waterfall, finally entering behind the waterfall. The sound of crashing water around me brought me peace and clarity as I sat down and stared at the ever falling water.
I have been carrying around the weight of the people I have killed for too long. With each death, the black tower grew and I knew there were no tally marks because I never thought they really mattered. So, what have you decided? Cadeyrn sat next to me, his clothes soaking wet from the waterfall.
I always knew that even though I could save some, those that I was able to never really counted. I’ve carried the guilt with me for such a long time. I don’t know if I’ll be able to rid myself of it by the time you need me. I answered him.
He grabbed my hand and pressed it to his lips. There is another way you can rid yourself of the curse, but you are hell-bent on dying that I don’t know if it’s worth it.
I shook my head, I don’t want to hear it. Let’s stick with the plan, but I want you there when I die. Somehow, you’ve grown on me and Fidd gave the impression that you’ve become infatuated with me. I grinned at him, watching his green eyes light up as did the slight red to his face.
I can be there for you. After all, you are my weapon against the sadistic King. Think about it this way, you’re saving the future lives that he would have killed for his pleasure. He leaned in closer to me, But, I want a kiss to seal the deal. Steriling is correct about my ‘infatuation’ as you put it. You’re abrasive, but loyal to a fault. You’re intelligent and strong; you’d have to be to have carried that weight for as long as you did.
I think I can do a kiss, anything beyond that, I’m not sure about. I leaned in close to him and he pressed his lips softly to mine. The forest fell apart around me, the Wise Woman’s voice calling me back to the manor.
“Find the way, back to home. The fire’s burning around you. Things you wish, you could change. You’ve learned what you came to.” Warm hands moved across my face, removing the smudge from my eyes. “Death awaits those who choose. Don’t let its allure contain you. You have purpose beyond what you see, trust in those who believe in you.” Her voice faded, as the candle light extinguished in a sudden gust of air and the sound of a door closing.
I opened my eyes in the darkness to see the Wise Woman gathering her things. I stood up, wobbling because my legs fell asleep. I carefully walked over to her, “Was Cadeyrn in here?”
She shook her head, “No, my dear. But it’s telling that he’s the one who delivered your message. What did he say?”
“That there was another way that I could get rid of the curse, but I didn’t want him to tell me.”
“There is only one way, my child.” She set her bag on the ground and reached up to touch my face. “But, the weight that you’ve been carrying seems to be alleviated, so at least something did work. When you die, you shouldn’t be weighed down by the guilt you’ve had for such a long time.” She looked outside, “It’s almost dawn and I think Prince Cadeyrn needs to talk to you.”
I nodded to her, grabbing my purse from near the door. I exited the dusty room to find an empty hallway. I walked down the stairs, finding top three levels completely empty, before finding my way back to the study room. I looked at the wooden door and wanted to turn away from it. The door opened and Cadeyrn stepped out, his black hair disheveled and his clothes soaking wet. “The hell happened to you?”
“The Daimhin Holly got made at both Steriling and myself and pushed us into the pond.” I looked at him with disbelief before I burst out laughing. “It’s not funny! I don’t understand why he keeps insubordinate Daimhins.”
I wiped the tears away from my eyes, “Because he can’t get rid of her. All the Daimhins in Fidd’s ‘family’ are a very close-knit community, and they gossip as such. If he got rid of her, you can guarantee that all of the Princes would know his dirty little secrets. She’s also one of his favorites because she is scrappy and abrasive and is the best when he needs information.”
“He’s a masochist…” He walked passed me, “I’m going to my room to dry off. Will you come with me?”
I looked to the wooden door then to him, “Sure?”
I followed him up the stairs to the second floor, the room on the end. He opened the door and let me in first, “You can sit on the bed and we can talk from where I can dry and change from.”
“What do I need to learn for dealing with the King?”
He walked towards his closet and bathroom area, the door kept open so he could answer, “Well, first, I need to make sure that you are even able to get onto his radar. Secondly, you need to know how to talk to him so he doesn’t actually try to kill you and thirdly, we need to build a convincing story that you and I are lovers, so he becomes jealous and falls into the trap.”
I gulped, “Lovers? Like how convincing?”
“Well, you’re almost 670 years old, so I assume you know what sex is.”
“I know what it is, but I’ve never had it.”
He stuck his head out from the bathroom, “Wait a second. You’ve never had sex? That’s like Steriling’s specialty.”
“Fidd treats me like a daughter, meaning that he doesn’t see me as he would a normal woman.”
He walked out of the bathroom, wearing only a pair of red silky pants. “How about kissing?”
“Familial, yeah… As for like a ‘true love’s first kiss’? Not so much.”
He sat on the bed next to me, “This is going to be harder than I originally thought.”
“Then why don’t we try for another angle. Let the rumor fly that you’ve caught the Cerbera and when you consulted the Wise Woman, you learned that the only one who could drink my blood is the King. You learned that he must fast for the three days prior to Samhain and drain me completely, or else he would die as well. Let the rumor say that once he does that, then he has a permanent supply of blood of like he has never tasted before.”
He thought about it for a second, “It would be risky, but I think it could work.”
“Have the Daimhin’s start it. Holly meets with a lot of Daimhin’s at her job, including those who are attached to commoners and generals. If it comes from the Princes, he might think it’s a trap, but as far as he knows, the commoners are on his side, correct?”
He nodded, “We try to protect them from his wrath and squash any rumors there might be about him. We don’t want them in a panic or else we will have a riot on our hands.”
“Does the King trust you?”
“Yes, but only because I’m his bloodline and he believes that I can’t lie to him.”
“Can you lie to him?”
He shrugged, “Never needed to before.”
“Then after he hears the rumors, he’ll probably come to you for confirmation. Tell him that you wanted to gift me to him, but wanted to make sure that I was broken, so I wouldn’t run away. I mean the entire vampire community knows that I’m strong-willed and wouldn’t stat captured if I could run.”
He laughed a single scoffing laugh, “He’d prefer if you were as wild as you are now.”
“Good thing we have two weeks. It’ll be enough time for him to believe the rumors but not enough to break…”
“I’ll have Frost tell Holly to start the rumors. The faster they get to him the better.” He turned to face me, “You will need to stay here.”
“The Daimhins’ will know that it’s a lie if you’re seen out and about.”
“I have three fur-babies that I want nothing more than to cuddle with. And I need a shower with normal clothes to change into. I want to go home.”
“It’s not going to be your home after two weeks…” He reminded me.
“Then have Frost or Holly grab my babies and they stay here with me.”
“I can do that.” He laid down on the bed next to me. When I gave him and odd look, he just answered quietly, “The sun’s about to rise.”
“Ah, that makes sense.”
“What’s your favorite book series?”
“That’s an odd question.”
“Since you’re stuck here, I want to make sure you are comfortable.”
“The Black Jewels Series by Anne Bishop and the Harry Potter Series.”
He smiled, “I love those books as well. Movies?”
“Disney. Fantasy. Action-Adventure.”
“Mine too.” He turned onto his side and I watched his body stiffen as the sun rose above the horizon.
I stood up and left his room, finding Frost and Holly in the study. ”What did he say?”
“We need to spread a rumor. It needs to be that Cadeyrn caught me as a gift to the King because the Wise Woman told him that the King is the only one who could drink my blood safely, as long as he drains me the first time he drinks on Samhain.”
They looked to one another, before Holly replied, “I can do that. Anything else?” She rushed forward and hugged me, “I’ll text you when the rumor is started. If my gossip chain holds true, by lunch, most of the Daimhins should know that you are here and the reason why.” She let me go.
I nodded, “I need to go home, pack my bags, grab my kids and their food and come back here. As of lunchtime, I’m a captive here.”
Frost nodded, “I’ll help you with that.”
I sat in one of the chairs, “Do you think this is going to work?” I grabbed my head in my hands, everything was moving too fast for me to accurately plan the consequences of this plan.
Holly and Frost sat in the other chairs and he answered me, “I’ve met the King and this is one of the better plans I’ve heard. You should have heard the other Princes with their ideas. But you have to realize, the King is insane, so there’s no telling what he might do. If you were killable, we would have to worry about your death more.”
“Just because I can’t die doesn’t mean I can’t feel pain.” I admitted.
“You sliced your arms open earlier!” Holly gawked.
“It hurt like a bitch, but I couldn’t figure out how to get them to stop arguing.” I gave her a look, “So, I heard you pushed them into the pond?”
The look of confusion on her face was enough to tell me the lie, “I thought about it, but I never did. After you left, Cadeyrn left the labyrinth and last I saw was him going into the manor.”
“The Wise Woman told me that he wasn’t there.”
Frost snickered, “She’s a liar with things like that. She’s truthful within her ceremonies, but she enjoys playing the old lady outside of them. Then again, Cadeyrn could have asked her not to tell you if you asked.”
My phone alarm buzzed, reminding me to feed the animals. “Well, guess it’s time to start the rumor and become a captive.” I stood up and the three of us left, using one of the manor’s vehicles, a Saturn Vue. We dropped Holly off at work and Frost and I gathered the necessities from my house. I changed clothes as well, before going back to the manor.
He led me to the second floor to the room next to Cadeyrn’s. He opened it and Scooter ran inside to explore, as did the two kittens. “He told me that this will be your room for the time being. Let me know if you need anything.” He set the different pet supplies on the ground before leaving.
I walked over to the bed and sat on it. Scooter whined to be let up, so I picked him up onto the bed, the kittens using their claws to climb the comforter. I took my clothes off and climbed under the covers, Scooter circling to take his place between my knees and the kittens along my ankles and feet. I took a breath and decided to sleep.