This is just a teaser for my newer version of this novel. Same name, different content, same settings. Just a lot of things got tweaked...

Chapter Eight

Feed

I looked at Markkus and slumped to the floor. I doubt it would have hurt, but Markkus still caught me and picked me up. "Definitely hungry." I looked at his face as he slung my arm over his shoulder and half-drug me to a small chamber with seats in a circular formation around a sphere of bare ground. It was a sports amphitheater.

"I take it there was a change in plans?" I gestured out at the ring in emphasis. "Skip the Bleeding chambers and go straight to hell in a fighting challenge."

Markkus laughed. "No, just a switch in guard. After hearing your screams last night, no one expected you to live through the daylight. No one else had." I shuddered as I remembered the feel of the greasy black soot left by my precursors on the pillar. "The other guard was dismissed. I chose to remain in his place, just in case."

"Oh." That's all I could say. I mean, it made complete sense. I'm sure it sounded like I was dying. "But the chambers. I thought I was supposed to..."

He still doesn't get it. He looked dead at me. Do you? I simply shook my head at how easily I heard his thoughts. It sounded like he was talking, but in my head. He let out a peal of rough bawdy laughter. "I didn't think so. Let me explain. This is the Bleeding Chamber. You will feed here, for the first time, in front of the entire Hold. As soon as you kill and feed, you will be accepted as the King-to-be. Then you will be crowned as Lord of the Shadows. You will be the most powerful undead being in the world, not even answering to Death. Maev will be your Queen and you will share her bed this very night... I mean day." A low chuckle escaped his throat. "When you stay indoors like we have to, which I guess you won't, you get day and night so confused. We sleep during the day on the rare occasion. Once or twice a month. Other than that... Well, let us just say that no rest for the wicked isn't entirely a figure of speech." Even I managed a small laugh.

"So, what am I killing and feeding on? Or should I say who?" That was what was annoying me. Would I have to kill a human and drain him? Or worse, her?

You know, we can't eat, well, drink from anything but humans. Everything else is poison to our system. Solid foods can kill us if we don't choke it back up. And fast. It doesn't degrade, it blocks the ingestion capillaries in our vampire stomachs. It's a feature of our diet. Our stomachs contain small openings leading to what used to be our blood vessels. We drink the blood, it flows to our guts and is instantly sucked into the blood system until the system and stomach are full. The blood stays in the veins as it is absorbed as energy. Our stomachs have changed to fill the cavity where everything but the lungs were. And we don't need our lungs, so they have shrunk so that we can breathe, but it's only used so we can smell our prey. We only need a whiff. The rest of our body is a big reservoir for blood. No kidneys, no heart, no pancreas. Women retain their reproductive organs, as do men, but only a rare few can actually bring forth life. The queen specifically requested you because she can breed, and seeing as you had the quality of purity as a human, you could breed. Only virgin vampires can mate.

"So that's why you go for virgins occasionally. And the whole guts thing is why you guys, I mean we, blow up in a shower of blood sometimes when we die. But why didn't any of the guards die, why did the darkness just leave there bodies?"

"Well, mi lord, we need to watch how we eat, not too much. just enough to fill the system and half the stomach. If we did fill up, we would be killing two humans or more instead of one or two. Our feeding is strictly regimented and scheduled. We have days of the year assinged to use. Most of use are so hungry that it's been at least a year since or last feeding. It only takes one human to sustain us per year, but the need and drive to be full is so strong. Some newbies go nuts. Five six people a month. They are quickly dealt with. We hunt outside the island, simply walking to England and the Gaul." I asked why. "Because we don't have to breath, as I said. We aren't as buoyant as humans, so we can stay on the bottom, unfettered by the currents or animals. they instinctively flee at our presence. The druids keep a storeroom of willing slaves for the ceremonies like this and emergencies."

"What you mean is, I'll be killing someone who wants to die?"

Humane in that we give them freedom from their pain. No struggle.

That unsettled me for some reason. "Why don't they fight? I won't kill someone who won't fight back. It goes against my honor to do so. Like killing an unarmed man."

You would rather have us abduct some violent person who wants life?

"No, even though I would like a good fight. I was just thinking of someone I would like to kill though." I looked at him to get the message across.

"The Saxon?" He had read MY mind.

"Exactly." I paused, thinking it over. "If you could get him in here, would I still be accepted as King, even though I had killed and drained someone who didn't want it?"

A wicked glint flashed in his eyes and a wide grin crossed his face. "Yes. You would actually be more welcome as the King, since it showed a moral Backbone. Tell you what, sir..."

"No more "sir"s or "My Lord" or anything like that. I'll have to hear it from everyone else, but not you or any of the close friends, and sure as hell not Maev. My name is Raeth. Pronounced like wrath of God. Alright?"

"What ever you say Raeth."

"So when do I feed on my enemy? I'm starving damn it..." And I was. Now that I was back in the dark, my stomach was screaming for sustanence.

"If I got him in here, I'll have to knock him out and wait for him to wake up before you eat him."

"I don't care. Do it. Vengeance is mine says ME!"

"Just like a King."

"Yeah. King in Darkness, but when I go outside, I'll just be a commoner."

"Just don't kill anyone in the daytime in front of anyone" Markkus said.

"No problem. Now, can I get this old life off of me? Please?"

"You know the way. I'll get your ceremonial robe ready for after your, um, battle. Be back here in five hours. I'll be waiting here with the Saxon already in the ring."

After showering, I found two sets of clothes. One set was tight black leather, obviously meant for hunting and killing and fighting. The other was the ceremonial dress. White shirt, white wool pants. Red gloves, red belt, red sandals, black cape and scepter, and a gold handled sword emellished withall sorts of jewels. The sheath was black steel emblazoned with a red insignia. Looked like the sun and a crescent moon merged as one. As I dressed, I thought about what was coming. I was getting my vengeance on the man that had killed my family and myself. He would be terrified when he saw me, alive and well, ready to kill. He would scream as I tortured him, ripping his skin from muscle and bone withsurgical accuracy and watching him bleed. No breathing yet. That would collapse my control and make me kill him too soon. Even when he begged for death, I'll keep tearing and snapping and ripping. Bones would be pulverized, muscles atrophied in seconds. He would die slower and more painfully than I had. Right when he was going to give up. I would have him healed, and then do it again. then I would have him healed and then drain him of his adrenalin infused life force. It would satiate me for months.

As I walked to the stadium, I grinned in anticipation. Vengeance is mine,I thought as I caught sight of Markkusand behind him, the Saxon was strung up and bound tightly to a pole, guarded by seven vampires. He must have woken up a long time ago. He was screaming with rage.

I can see the anticipation. You're going to tear him a new one aren't you? Markkus thought.

"Inevitably. Tell me there are vampire druids." He looked confused, so I told him my plan. He laughed.

"You truly are a vampire, my friend. and yes, as long as he lives, we can heal him. It will take a few minutes, but he will be as good as new. Then you can start anew. and then we'll heal him again and then you can kill him."

"Good. Now let me through."

As I entered the ring and approached the Saxon. I was right. He blanched and started to scream obscenities at me.

"You should be dead! I watched you (Expletive Deleted) die by my own hands!" Damn. My spitting in his eye didn't work.

"I see you aren't blind."

"You twit. You got me good in my left eye. Had to get it removed!" So that's why he was squinting at me through one eye.

"You killed my family and, indirectly, several of my village after I had died, no doubt. Well," I grunted as I knelt by him and looked him in the eye, not breathing. "It's my turn. I am going to inflict pain on you. You will beg for death by the time I'm finished with you. And then, being the gracious and vengeful King I am... That's right. I am a King... I will oblige you. I will drain your body of life and your soul will be destroyed as well. You will cease to exist in any form. No afterlife, no next life, nothing. you will die and your soul eliminated. I will rent you in two and burn your dried up shell in the fires of Hell itself. I will feed your innards to the fish. I will crush your skull in my hands and cast it into the bogs of Cork. You will suffer!" I screamed in rage and ordered him released.

I needed to control my rage or I would kill him too soon. He rushed me and, so fast he couldn't see and he didn't register the pain until a few moments later, I caught the shirt he wore along with a piece of his skin and jerk as hard as I could. The crowd roared with delight at the violence there soon-to-be king was inflicting on this human. The Saxon roared in pain and jerked around as the skin peeled off like a layer of bark and ripped off in another jerk of my arm.

Tears ran down his face as he ignored the pain and charged again. I jumped on top of him and scalped him with a quick rake of my fingers. As I leaped off of him, he spun and tripped. He picked himself up and blinked away the blood rushing into his good eye. He roared like a lion at me. He crouched and sprung. My foot caught his gut and sent him up into the air. He landed hard. I jumped on him and tore free several more layers of skin, exposing raw muscle, which I tore at with nails. He screamed in pain. It sounded like a wraith. As I got up, I motioned for someone to heal him. Still not breathing. I was still shocked at how easy it was. He was still screaming. He stopped screaming and jumped up. He was more wary now. He drew a knife. He threw it at me.

I saw it coming, spinning through the air and disturbing the air as it came at me, handle over blade over handle. I caught the knife's handle. He stopped dead in his tracks and stared open mouthed. His features switched from shock to rage. He charged me like an idiot. Now I was getting bored with him. I kicked him into the far wall and was ripping away his skin bit by bit and rubbed dust and grime from the ground into the wounds. When he was all but dead, I ordered him healed one last time. As he scattered away from me when he was healed, he whimpered. I picked him up and held him high.

"I'm not so easy to kill anymore, am I? Huh? AM I?!" I was hungry and tired of playing games. I inhaled a deep, or as deep as I could, breath. The darkness completely squelched the light in me and I gave myself over to the void. I heard my voice deepen as my fangs ached forward and down in my mouth.

"I'm going to kill you now. Life for life, blood for blood. I, Raeth Locheed, King of the Vampires, do hereby sentence you to death for my nourishment!" I drove my fangs into his neck at the fastest flow of blood and pulling back withthe serrated backside of my canines. The blood rushed out into my mouth and I lost myself in the feeding frenzy of one. As I bled him dry, his screams grew fainter and more gurgling until it cut off completely. His blood was still warm as the last drop emptied into my system.

I could not stop. I was too far in and very, very hungry. Two more warm beings entered the room. I saw them only briefly. They were Saxons. I ran through them and was still hungry. Two more Saxons. Then two more. As I finished the seventhSaxon off, I felt the darkness let it's grip on me loosen and then fall away as the Light replaced it. As I stood tall in the center of the field, surrounded by seven dead Saxon with horrid gashes in their necks, I heard a roar go up through the surrounding crowd. The ground was only soiled by the leaders skin and blood from those wounds inflicted before his demise at my teeth. No blood had been wasted during feeding. Markkus came to me and knelt on one knee.

"If you wish, Raeth the Vengeful, I would like to stay on as your personal guard against those who would see you dead." He said this sincerely. I felt gratitude for this creature.

"Rise, Markkus, as the guard of your king and queen. When I am crowned, I will make this appointment official."

Markkusstood with what could only be called pride. You have just given me the most coveted position, Raeth. I have acquired enemies for this. But you have far more already working against you.

I lowered my voice so only he could hear. "I know this Markkus. I know them through their thoughts and actions. Velkas is not their leader, but is definitely the worst."

I shook his hand, he smiled but I knew he wanted to loose control.

My god. I knew he didn't like you, but this is cad. Velkas is high up. Have you found the ring leader?

I simply shook his hand side to side in reply.

I understand. Now you need to get your Ceremonial Clothes on, Raeth. time to meet your Destiny. "Follow me, O Immortal King Raeth."

I followed him out of the stadium and back to my chambers. He stood outside the door as I went in to change.

I knew there was someone there. I could smell them. The knife came from my right and I just managed to dodge it. Vampire thrown, definitely. I tackled the shadowed vampire and ripped the second knife from his hands. "I know why you're here. I know how many are with you, assassin! Your name is Temak. You are seventy years old. You are not mated. you want me gone to take my place, but your master... Hmmm.. Nice job of shielding your mind." The thoughts in his head were solely focused on the image of the crown soon to be placed on my head.

"Your times up, wicked one." I snapped his vampire neck and ripped his stomach open. He had recently eaten, I figured. He literally exploded in a gout of blood. I licked it off of me and drank it from the goblets that some of it landed in. I was refreshed. I changed into my robes and checked to make sure the blood was off of my face as I pulled on the gloves.

I walked out to Markkus and looked at him.

"Can you please get someone to clean that up," I asked him nonchalantly as possible. He went into the room and laughed.

Conspirator? I nodded, grinning. Figures. Let's go make a King! He smiled.

Chapter Nine

Tests of Character

As I followed Markkus, the hall was devoid of the undead. I looked at him questioningly.

They're all waiting for you in the Royal Hall. you've become a rather popular subject of localized chatter. No one vampire has ever drained more than two humans. You remember how many you managed to stuff in your system?

I chuckled. "Seven if memories serves me right."

Seven. Where did you put them all... A low chuckle escaped his throat. "Seriously. You should only have room for two at the most. So where did you stuff the little morsels?"

"I have no clue. I just wasn't satisfied with the leader. Maybe it was latent rage and the adrenalin... All I know is that I gave over to the darkness and was ravenous." I shook my head and walked on in silence. I began to notice a faint glow on the walls. "What the hell is making the walls glow?"

"The druids marked the correct passage to the Royal Hall with what they said was some sort of moss. We are about a mile from the chamber. When you get there, I will once again fall behind you. This is the third test of your character. You have to walk with pride, power, and most of all, with a swift and commanding pace. You need to look focused. You will be tested on the way down to the throne. It's a good quarter miles walk from the door. We had to make the room large enough to host the entire Vampire nation. Do not respond to the distractions on the way. When someone jumps at you, ignore them. It's a test. If someone comes at you from behind and attempts to stab you, sidestep and they will move past you and leave the walkway. Pay no attention to anyone but the Druid at the front of the lane and Maev behind him. Understand, sir?"

"Yes. Keep my eyes ahead and only divert from the path when someone comes from behind. Correct?" He simply nodded.

"Some will get in front of you and taunt you at the top of their lungs and point in your face and poke you in the chest and do anything to make you lose your concentration. Just keep walking. Show no interest and keep.."

"My eyes forward. Gotcha. So how much further?"

"Stop. You'll run into my back again if you don't. We are here. Are you ready to shut out the worst?" I nodded my head, already retreating into the quieter parts of my mind, knowing of no way to shut out the voices emanating from the other side of the door.

Wonder if he'll make...

He's gonna choke...

No one could stand this type...

He's got some nerve coming here...

I sure hope he makes...

Alright. Don't fly by him. Actually kill the King before he gets there. Shouldn't be too hard. Right? Oh God, what if he...

I paid no attention to any of them until the last one piped up. I'd have to watch myself. "Markkus."

"Yes?"

"The ones who would have me dead are here as well. One of the ones will not go past me when I side step. He'll wheel around and come straight for me and try to kill me before I reach the throne. You said you would be behind me?" He nooded. "Then keep an eye out for the double attacks. Those are the ones. Most of them. I'll have no idea until they are right on me. Since I cannot break eye contact or speak, I will signal with my head. Tilted towards the attacker, alright?" He Nodded and turned towards me.

"I'll dispatch them quickly, Raeth. On my duty as your guard. They will not live to see you reach the end."

I shook my head. "No, Markkus. Save them for me. I will find out the source of this rot and burn it like the chaff of wheat. with you as my winnower, we'll root out this poison. Will you do this for your future king?"

"With all my power and rescources, my Lord."

"Then let us get this over with." I started forward and the massive wooden doors swung inward to reveal a brightly lit and lavish room full of the undead. As I swept my eyes once around the room and refocused them on the man standing a good hours walk away what with all the attacks, I saw tapestries and paintings and torches and doors that led to other rooms. when I cleared the doors and Markkus followed suit, The doors slammed shut and all hell broke loose. Several vampires rushed me at once, shouting obscenities and accusations that neither registered nor caught my attention. My attention was searching the crowds for malevolence. It shocked me the vastness of the conspiracy. It called for attempts on my life at all stages of the ceremony.

A vampire in green robes rushed me with a broadsword. I tensed myself and sidestepped his blade. He continued past me and did not turn. I was surprised at how well he hid his intentions in his mind. I would need to be very, very careful. A second throng of vampires pushed me and pulled at my clothes and hit me and screamed in my face. I managed to ignore the pummeling and focus on the next attack. This was another green clad vampire, but with a staff. He rushed me and struck out with the sharp edge of the staff. I moved and he began to turn back on me. I inclined my head towards him. He was swiftly taken down. Four more times this happened and each time, they were brought down. The last throng of vampires receded and I was free. Or so I thought. I was still several yards from the Druid. Seven arrows whizzed past my head, posing no harm. Then they came more frequently, and turned into a haze of flying projectiles as they darted by me.

Twelve arrows came at me and almost speared me. Thank the gods that Markkus saw them before they impacted. He knocked them away and threw several knives in rapid succession and brought down the attackers like lightning. It was as if the knives were shot from a ballista instead of a hand. They threw the archers back off their perches and into the wall, where they remained pinned. The volley of arrows stopped and the fireballs started. I was bombarded by the balls of pitch and tar. Only three of them came directly at me, which Markkus caught and threw back with lethal force. All three sling-men flew backwards, their heads aflame and their shrieks drowned by the furious roars of the right-minded vampires. As I reached the Druid, the volley of fire stopped.

A cheer rang out from the crowd. I had passed the test flawlessly, despite the assassination attempts. As I walked up the stairs, still staring dead ahead, Markkus motioned for me to stop and kneel. I did so, and a heavy wolf-skin cloak was thrown about my shoulders. The Druid ordered me to remain kneeling.

"As you have all seen, the child has passed each test set before him. He has the right to accept the crown and become the King of Night with Maev at his side, or turn down the offer and remain a vampire inside our halls. No harm will befall him if he chooses to turn down our offer. Is there any among us who would have him deny the throne. Speak your piece and no harm shall befall you." Several voices rang out. Several. Almost seventy of the hundreds gathered roared their dissatisfaction at my choice.

"Are there any who would see him accept the throne and fulfill the prophecy?" Hundreds of voices rose up in a violent roar of approval and joy. "It is now time for the child to make his decision. May he make it wisely. What say you, Child of the Earth?"

My mind jumped into overdrive. Half of it screamed NO! The other half, more logical than the other, reasoned that I had a better chance of doing some good in this world if I took the throne. But what if they actually kill us, part of me argued. Then it will be all for naught! Another part fought back. What if they don't? Apparently they expect me to fulfill some prophecy. that sounds like an adventure. And if we do turn it down, whos to say that we won't be killed on sight?

I don't know what made me do it, but I bowed my head and said the words that would change the course of my afterlife forever and anon. "I will accept your offer, Lords and Ladies of the Night."

There was a heartbeat of silence and then several shouts rang out and I was surrounded by a struggle to keep me alive. What the hell have I got myself into? The shouts were muffled and the assassins bound and gagged. The Druid held a crown of black metal trimmed in gold and silver filigree with a silver crescent moon combined with the sun in gold as the emblem on the front of the crown. He approached and placed the crown on my head.

"Rise, King of Shadows and All Powerful Lord of the Night! Hail the coming of the Age of Light! All hail the King! All hail the King!" The crowd joined in the chant and I was told to rise to my feet and sit on the throne of the King. It was a high-backed mahogany chair inlaid with rubies and emeralds and sapphires and amethysts. The platform it was on was a simple marble slab inlaid with runes that stated the person who sat on the throne was the Saviour of the Damned Souls of Night. I ascended the slab and seated myself on the throne. In that instant, I realised that I had accepted a responsibility that could either save or destroy an entire race of creatures.

Maev sat next to me, and her scent wafted over to me and the lust I had felt when I was mortal sprung to life ten times more powerful. I became distracted by the smoothness of her skin, the arch of her neck, the deep green of her eyes, the locks of flame-red hair. I needed her in an incomprehensible way. She must have known that I could hear thoughts, for she suddenly spoke to me in her mind. The sound was like honey and sunlight and a cool breeze on flushed and fevered skin. A balm on a burn.

I chose you, my King, from thousands of others. Only you held my attention for any length of time. Your courage and willingness to sacrifice yourself for your loved ones. You were kind and gentle with those who were good, yet you never let yourself be deceived by a good intention. You saw through pretenses set to deceive you. You set your wrath upon those who meant you or those you cared for harm. You were a genuinely good person, that is why I chose you. The more I watched you, the more I realised what I was feeling. I was just supposed to pick out a King. I was indifferent to you at first, but as time moved on, I realised I felt something more for you. I fell in love with a human, one who may be the King of my people and leader of the night. I knew I had to have you. More powerful than the lust, was the need to be with you. I watched you for three years as you developed into more and more of a man. Each day, I fell deeper into you. I became preoccupied by the way you moved when you hunted and fought. The way your muscles bunched and released just before you sprang in for the kill. It drove me mad when I was told I would have to wait longer. I was glad I waited. You saw me, I was sure, but you did not know me. I was hidden by a druids glamour to look human. I noticed that, even with the mask, you seemed to be attracted to me.

I was staring at her when the shape of her mouth and the set of her shoulders registered familiar just as she said those last words. she was the young woman who arrived in our village not two years before my death. I had seen her in the village and my curiosity stirred something deep within me. At night I would sit by a fire and she would talk to me about herself, and I realised just how close she came to telling me the truth. I came to enjoy her company more and more until I foolishly thought I was in love. I had no idea she felt the same way... A thrill sped through me as I realised I could finally find out more about her. She hid so much from me and occasionally dodged my questions so often before my death that I was insanely curious and going mad with the want to know her better before I asked her to be with me. I wanted to be sure I knew her before I did anything.

Is this how you felt? Have I described your feelings for me as well? I simply grinned and nodded my head.

My attention was called away when the Druid came forward with a group of other druids. The lead druid motioned for us to stand. I was completely lost... I glanced at Maev, who was positively brimming over with unbridled joy. I made it a point to look confused...

No King can be a true King without a Queen. I just about exploded with what can only be described as a giddiness and lightness and joy that threatened to match Maev's.

We stood beside each other as the Druid leader raised the cup of wine towards the ceiling, praying to the pagan gods to bless the wine and to concecrate the wedding. As Maev and I drank deeply from the goblet, I felt the very fiber of my soul being irrevocably bound with hers. As the cloth was wound about our hands, the bonding was completed. I could sense everything that Maev did, and she everything I sensed. We were one instead of two and there was no separation or distinguishable difference in our auras. If one hurt, so did the other. If one was joyful, the other could not be sad or angry. I felt connected to her at a level that could never be surpassed, not even by intimate contact, which I was sure would come later. I reveled in it. When I looked at her, it was as if I had been blind.

She was beautiful to an excruciating degree. I wanted her so much more now. I could not take her here and now, but I would bide my time. We were wed and the celebration would last seven days. No one would leave the chambers and no one would villains that had plotted my downfall were locked in high-strung cages bound with magic. They were spat on and ridiculed. They were bombarded by stones and cups of mead. And the cups of mead were many. Apparently, we could absorb any liquid into our systems. Mead was the liquid of choice for the next few days. It was bountiful and strong. Maev and I were presented with gifts from every vampire in assembly. Books, sculptures with exquisite detail, potraits of us, paintings of nature and thousands more. When the festivities ended, every vampire turned to rest and left the hall for their seperate chambers. Maev and I waited till the last of the attendees filtered out of the doors and then made the escape to our own private royal suite. We coupled for what seemed like ages, never seeming to be able to get enough of each other. We went on for hours like this, only stopping for short periods of time to recuperate, only to exhaust ourselves in each other again. At long last, we separated and lay next to each other. Not satisfied by a long shot, yet unable to think of anything new to try, we lay together on the royal bed and talked the day or night or whatever it was away. We both knew that we would need to get up soon and get on with the daily tasks, only to be anticipating more each night.

Chapter Ten

A Beautiful Mind

I was finally coming to terms with the fact that I was dead, but still alive, and actually doing better than I was when I was alive. The most beautiful woman I could ever imagine was my bride. I was a king, a real king. A peasant farm boy could have only dreamed of it, if that. Even more unbelievable, I lost my virginity. Never really thought that would happen... But I also knew that as a king, I had other things to attend to. Not all of those things would be pleasant. I had already amassed a great number of enemies, and I had no idea how powerful some of those enemies really were. I also had no idea how deep the rot reached. I sighed as I lay next to Maev.

Maev. I could not let her get hurt by the attempts on my life. She looked up at me, her emerald jewels searching my face even in the dark for what could be agitating me at this time, after so much joy.

What's the matter, my beloved?

"I just realized that I'm not the only one in danger when they attack me." I looked down at her and saw her smile. "What is it that makes you so calm in the face of a fact like that?"

She spoke to me aloud, and the sound of her voice coupled with the intoxicating scent of her breath and the feel of her as she tried to move closer to me, which was next to impossible but she still managed it, had me fighting to keep my head. I mean, we were still in bed. I managed, but I have no clue how...

"There is nothing that could possibly make me unhappy when I'm with you. Plus, you're not the only one who is next to invincible." She grinned and put her finger on my nose.

I laughed at the touch and pulled her closer still. She reached up to kiss my lips again. It was like petrol and a spark. Unavoidable. I managed to stop before things went from house fire to forest fire in seconds. The fire burned steadily as we separated and I saw the hunger in her eyes. I did my best to ignore it. She lay her head on my chest. My heart was still beating, though it was not my blood pumping through my system. It beat hard, making audible thumps as it contracted and relaxed.

Your heart beats stronger than any in this hold. A true Kings heart. She sighed and closed her eyes.

"Are you going to sleep, mo chroi?" I used the language I had used before the Romans came over to Ireland.

Yes, I haven't rested in weeks, and am overdue. You should do the same, mi doammni. I suspect you will have a great deal of responsibilities when the time comes for us to leave our chambers.

I had to agree. Even though I was a vampire, the Light mixing with the Dark in me caused me to tire just a little faster than a normal immortal. Whereas a normal Vampire could go for two or three weeks without sleep, I could only go two to two and a half weeks. Not much of a difference, but enough of one. i closed my eyes and let sleep overcome me. I thought I would sleep like a normal person, but this was not normal sleep.

The sleeping state of a half and half like myself was more like a trance that I fell into with the greatest of ease. I was aware of everything going on around me. Meav's slow breathing as she fell into a deep unconsciousness. I could feel her hands on my chest and her mouth moving slightly. Dear Lord! She talks in her sleep! Not that I need to hear her voice to know what she's dreaming of... And I was pleasantly surprised when I took a look.

Her dreams were about us. Her mind replayed every touch and every sound we shared. She had every inch of my body stored into her infallible memory. Then her dreams took a shift in time, going back to when I was still human.

She had watched everything I did from the shadows of the forest. When I sensed someone watching and turned in her direction, she hid and held back giggles. When I went back to work, I was tilling the fields with my shirt off in her dreams, must have been summer because I was sweating like crazy, she returned to watching me. Another shift in time.

I was tending my fathers flock and a bear came towards the strays. I gathered up the young lamb and herded the rest away from the dumb animal. It kept coming, grunting and snorting as it searched the winds for threats. I was considered a threat. It charged me and I attacked it, like I had the one that killed my father. It's head sailed away into the lake and I jumped out of the way of the body. She had watched as I had carved off the pelt and cut the meat into portions for my family. After depositing the chum in the nets in order to catch the larger fish, I had hauled the cuts to the village. She followed my path, keeping to the shadows. Yet another shift in time.

She was alone. There was a house in the distance. As she flitted across the open field, invisible to human eyes, the house came into sharper focus. It was my house and it was dark. She stopped outside my window and climbed through to the inside. I was asleep and covered in my bearskins. She crept over to me, a curiosity and a sense of loneliness pervading the scene. She put her hands on my face and my eyes opened.

My gods. I had thought that night was a dream. I was sure I had dreamed of an angel holding my face, staring at me with such love as I had never seen, but there was pain there. Hidden behind those angelic green eyes was such pain. I had wanted to kiss that angel. M gods how close I had come to kissing her, but there was a shuffle outside my door and then I blacked out. She had pushed my jugular vein just enough to knock me out and flitted out my window and back across the field. In the woods, she cried. I couldn't take any more of her pain. She was such a beautiful creature inside and out. I retreated from her dreams.

She really did love me, and now, with the insight into her mind, I realised more than ever that I loved her as well. My gods she was such a fragile creature, even by our standards, and I never wanted to see that kind of pain in her eyes again. I made a vow in my trance-like state that I would never let anyone or anything cause her to look like that again. It enraged me towards myself that I had caused the pain I saw in her eyes in the first place. I came out of my trance long enough to kiss her forehead and bring her as close to me as possible without disturbing her and then fell back into the spell.

So love had found its way to me after all. I never gave it a second thought when I was mortal. I had wanted to live the life of a tracker. Alone with the wilderness, answering to the call of nature and myself only. Now that I had this, I realised that I was just being foolish when I thought I wanted to live a solitary life. Now, I knew I could never be alone without feeling lost and longing for her touch or her reassuring presence. I would always need her, from the very core of my being.

I would always love her.

Chapter Eleven

A King's Duties

I came out of my stupor as Maev stirred in my arms. At that precise moment, someone knocked at the double wooden doors set in the far wall. I flew from the bed as fast as possible and dressed. I glanced over at the bed to see Maev, already dressed and lounging. she grinned at me.

Beat ya, she thought. I laughed and shook my head. I still couldn't get over how perfect this woman was.

"Come in," I replied to the knocker. Markkus stepped in and stood at attention.

"Your presence is requested in the Royal Hall to tend to your people as their King." I motioned for Markkus to relax and he did.

"Give me a few seconds to wake up fully before I leave, my friend. Let them know that I will be there shortly." I chucked a golden coin in Markkus' direction and he caught it with a chuckle.

What was that for?

"Just checking your reflexes." I needed him in top shape for the meeting. I already had several plans running through my head, not sure what the vampires needed.

"Keep it as your first payment. I'll double it weekly." He just nodded and pocketed the coin. Before he turned to leave he motioned for me to come over. I did so without hesitation.

"I'm concerned for your safety at these meetings. Several of the Lords are openly malevolent towards your reign. They may be in league with the assassins, but I have no way of knowing. They will be polite to your face, I'm sure of it, but I don't know their thoughts." He gave me a knowing look and turned around to leave.

I was going to have to employ my new-found sense to pry open the minds of others on a regular basis, or so it seemed. I donned my black etheral cloak and Maev donned her blue one. We walked out together into the halls of the hold. I kept my eyes dead ahead, only seeing the bowing vampires through my peripheral vision. As Maev and I swept through the halls at blinding speed and with a commanding presence, I scanned the minds of those around me for any signs of trouble. I saw snippets of peoples thoughts and most were preoccupied by other things. Some, on the other hand, had shielded their minds against me. These were the kinds I was worried about. They knew my secret ability.

When we reached the doors of the Hall, they swung open and revealed an empty ballroom. I hadn't been able to truly appreciate the vastness of the Royal Hall when it was filled to the brim with vampires all dancing and singing drunkenly. An image ran through my head from that first night.

A trio of vampires singing a drunken yet rousing rendition of "Seven Drunken Nights". It had me rolling on the throne. I mean, you had to be completely pissed to not notice that your wife was cheating on you... And the singer was absolutely smashed!Both the writer and the singer, I should say. I grinned at this remembrance as I spotted the leader of the trio. He chuckled and saluted me. Apparently he knew my secret too.

I see you remember me shenanigans. I was pissed and I had fun. So, no, I'm not apologizin'! I couldn't contain it. I grinned wider and laughed aloud. As did he. I came to a stop in front of him and motioned him forward. He did so, grinning like a madman.

"What's your name and position, my friend," I inquired to him.

"Me name's Johnny McClure, and I'm the Cap'n of the Royal Army, Your Kingship," he replied with a brogue that suggested he came from further south in Ireland.

"Well, Captain, I'd say a commendation is due for your rousing performance at the celebrations." I grasp his forearm and shook it. He let out a rowdy peal of laughter and shook his head.

"Well, all thanks to ya, sire. I'm sorely tempted to accept the commendation, but I feel I must decline. I was pissed as shite and not entirely in control of meself, though it does please me to know that I was some entertainment to me King. Thank ye immensely, me Lord." With that he bowed and returned to his place in line.

I continued walking until I reached the throne and sat. Maev sat to my right and Markkus stood to my left. Two druids approached and turned to the assembled crowd of leaders. They raised their hands and motioned towards the ceiling and it... Well, it just freaking disappeared... I could see the night sky overhead. The torches went out and the moonlight was left to illuminate the hall. A third druid handed me the scepter and I held it high, motioning for attention.

"I'll see to your concerns shortly. First, I made a few promises to certain people that I must observe." I lowered the scepter and stood. "Markkus Mason, please step forward." He did as he was bid and stood before me, grinning.

So well remembered.

"I never forgot" I whispered. He looked at me, then at Maev, and back to me, a knowing look on his face. "Okay, so maybe I let it slip from my mind for a few days..."

He just laughed quietly.

"Kneel, my friend." He did so.

"As all assembled and the Moon as my witnesses, I wish to renew the promise I made to you before I was instated as King. At your behest, I grant you the title of Royal guard. with this title, I charge you with the task of gathering eleven others of my choosing to join you in the Guard. starting with Captain McClure. Step forward Captain, and kneel next to your brother-in-arms." An astonished Johnny McClure stepped forward uncertainly and glanced about him. He glanced at me and I smiled reassuringly. He knelt next to Markkus. "As King, I offer you two this title. Royal Guards of the Midnight Courts. Will ye accept this charge?"

"Aye," replied Markkus.

"Uh, sure," replied McClure.

"Then rise. Markkus, return to my left and John, stand to the right of your Queen." They did as bid, and I sat back on the throne. "Now to business."

As an elder vampire moved forward, I scanned his thoughts for animosity. I found none.

The night wore on and on in this fashion. A new vampire would come to me with his problems and we would discuss the options available, then I would choose the best path of action. Occasionally, I would find a violent mind and motion for Markkus to be ready for anything. I had Johnny make a list of the ones deemed hostile, so as we could keep track of them.

Most of the entreaties were mundane, dealing less with politics and more with personal problems, but, as King, it was my duty to tend to my people, no matter how small the problem. Take, for instance a young female vampire who came to me with a strange problem having something to do with her mate not sleeping as much as he should, sometimes going for a month or two without rest. She had thought of drugging his wine, but he would smell it. She had thought to bash him upside the head to knock him out, but he would surely sense her coming. I simply told her to make him come to bed with her. She started to ask me what good that would do, and I just shouted at her.

"Dear gods, woman! You are a woman. He is a man. You have something he wants, that all men want. Use your body to lure him to bed and knock him out afterwards! Jeez!" She had one of those faces that screamed dumb at you with every look. Well, it only made it worse as the dumb look was replaced by a look of dawning apprehension.

"Oh," was all she could manage. I was beginning to question her sanity and mental capacity when she ran out of the hall to find her mate. I glanced at Maev, who was barely suppressing a hard case of laughter. Then I glanced at Markkus, who was just shaking his head in disappointment.

"Who the hell let her out of her cage," I questioned when she was out of vampiric earshot. Maev, apparently unable to hold back any longer, let out a great peal of laughter. It sounded like bells. Soon, the entire crowd joined in. Even the malevolent minded vampires could not suppress it. In fact, they laughed the loudest.

Some of the matters brought to my attention,though, were of a more pressing nature. A young military officer stepped up and bowed.

"My Liege, I bring news of a troubling nature. On the borders of our lands, humans are beginning to become more aware of our presence. A sere few of the younger generation, believing that your reign as King will set us above humans, have begun to attack the outlying villages and massacring traveling caravans of humans."

I took a deep breath and righted myself in the throne. "You were correct to bring this to my attention, soldier. I take it you know who the offenders are?" He nodded.

"Then I charge you and your company to round them up and bring them back to me. Afterwards, I will deal with them, fitting the punishments to the crime. Are the humans arming themselves?"

"Yes, my King. They have sought us out at night, but we have kept on the move, leaving the marking of wolves and bears to confuse them."

"How many villages have been attacked?"

"Seven, sire. And fourteen caravans totalling fifty casualties. No new vampires were created as far as we knew. some were drug away by animals before we could get them."

"Round them up, bring them to me. Understood?"

"Yes my Lord." With that he rushed away and gestured for his company, a total of seventy armed and prepared vampires to follow. The rest of the night was spent trying to sort through the minds of my people, finding out who posed a threat and who did not. I regarded those who sheilded their minds as suspect, but not condemned.

At the midpoint of the meeting, near dawn, we broke for supper. It consisted of wine, and small portions of it so that we would not forget the purpose of the gatherings. Afterwards, the council reconvened and discussions resumed.

I picked out ten more able bodied and well-meaning vampires to join the guard, after testing for their strengths and weaknesses. I appointed several members of the gathering as my advisers. Mostly the older, wiser generation who held nothing against me, but also a few young ones who knew what was happening in the modern world. Near the end of the meeting, a group of white-robed and cowled vampires bearing the royal insignia on their white cloaks stepped forward and presented me with a small scroll. The leader of the group stood tall and removed the cowel from his face.

That he was ancient was almost immediately obvious. His black hair hung in sheets to his knees and his eyes were a milky green. He presented me with the scroll and knelt at my feet.

"This is the Scroll of Prophecies. Seven of them are recorded on the leather. They all concern you, but will only reveal themselves after you have completed the one preceding them. the first two have been completed, my King. Please take a moment to read the inscriptions." His voice was barely a whisper, another nod to his age.

I opened the scroll and read the first two inscriptions.

A young mortal shall enter the folds of night and become the first and only king to walk in the light of day without ceasing to exist. He shall survive four attempts on his existence before reaching the throne. He will survive thousands more before he is ensnared by the enemy. He will take as his queen the most beautiful and smartest of the entire nation. He shall be both loved, feared, and hated. He shall be able to discern his enemies by their minds intent.

A young King shall appoint his Guard to protect against demons and vandals. He shall promote and demote leaders of his council in his first acts as a King of Death. He shall dispense justice and advice on his people.

At this point, a third inscription faded onto the worn leather. I read intently.

The young King will fight several battles for his life and the lives of his people. He shall shower his wrath upon those who attempt to destroy his nation. He shall begin the first battle seven days from the first night on the Throne. His decisions alone shall ultimately decide the outcome of these battles.

I nodded to the ancient script-bearer and handed back the scroll, disturbed by the last inscription. He accepted it back after cowling his head. He turned back to his group and they departed for the chambers they kept. I motioned for one of my newly appointed advisers. The adviser came to my side and bowed.

"What is your question, my King?"

"I feel sullied and suddenly uncertain. Who were the white-clad vampires with the scroll?"

"Those were the Guardians of Hope. The guard the Royal Library against harm and keep records of all the things that happen in our world. They are eons old, and are said to be the wisest of us all."

"Bring me there leader after we conclude the meeting."

"Yes, my Lord." The older vampire returned to his place. At the end of the meeting, the assembled vampires returned to their chambers and went about fulfilling their tasks. The green-eyed ancient was brought to me by my adviser. I motioned for him to be brought to my study, at the back of the Royal Hall. I sat beside my fire and motioned for the ancient sit in the other chair. He instead stood by it, cowled and robed in white.

"Please remove your cowl, my ancient friend." He did so and his black hair fell again to his knees.

"What doth my King request of me," he inquired with his light voice.

"I wish to know if you will be able to have one or two of your younger members attend each and every meeting, so that they may write of the events. Also, I would request of you that some of your members keep records of the number of vampires and their whereabouts and actions. This will be immensely helpful in my attempts to keep our secret. If any of them notice anything strange, please have them send a messenger to me immediately. I will make sure your kin are guarded ny those loyal to me. Will you be able to do this not only for your King, but for your people?"

The ancient stared into the flames for a long time, mulling over my request. Finally, he looked at me and spoke. "What shall you giveth in return, my Lord?"

I was expecting as much. "I will give you and yours anything you require."

The ancient nodded. "A wise choosing of words, my Lord. I shall accept your offer and have my children do as you hath requested of them. Is there any more you require of me?" I shook my head and the ancient left me to mull over my next course of action.

My beloved, what is troubling you? Maev's voice broke through my brooding and I saw her sitting on the arm of my chairs, leaning against me.

"The scrolls said I would be in a battle in seven days time. It did not mention who my enemies were, or how massive their forces would be. It said that the outcome of the battle depended solely on my decisions alone." I turned and brought her down to my lap and held her against me. She stroked my arms and hummed an unfamiliar tune. I relaxed and gave up trying to see the future. Instead I focused on the present. Maev was here with me, I was alive and so was she. We had each other and that was all we needed. I was so lost in the moment, I didn't sense the assassin until he was almost upon us. Maev screamed as she jumped out of the way of the knife, aimed directly at her, and not me. I lost it. Summoning the light within me, I let it flow through me and make my body glow with power.

I charged the assassin and yelled at Maev to leave the room and don't come back until I told her to. She looked at me with concern burning in her eyes, and then bolted to the door. When she was safely out of harms reach, I let the light emanating from he to reach an intensity as bright as the midday sun. It exploded from me and the assassin screamed and fought to no avail. He burnt in my arms and was reduced to ashes. The darkness in him could not survive, and was also turned to ash. As I reigned in the Light, my body dimmed and the heat from the blast of light escaped from the room through invisible cracks in the ceiling. The fire was reduced to ash and the table in the far corner of my study was aflame. The chairs were gone, replaced by lumps of smoldering ashes.

I walked to where to wooden doors used to be and walked over the ash. I found Maev in our room, sobbing on the bed. When I entered the room, still smoking and having a dim glow to my body, she threw herself at me. She grasped my head with her hands and kissed everything she could reach. She cried anew as she held me and I carried her back to the bed.

I heard the explosion and thought I had lost you! Thank the gods you are still here. I love you too much to lose you this soon. Don't leave me, mi amor. Please don't leave me!

There was such desperation and pain in her thoughts that I could think of no words to comfort her. So I settled with cradling her in my arms until her sobs died away and even after. Finally, she raised her head from my chest to look me in the face.

"My beloved, I will always be with you. Nothing could keep me from you," I told her in the utmost honesty. "I will never allow myself to be taken away from you, nor you from me. We are one." She smiled and kissed me. It wasn't a soft kiss, no, this kiss was desperate for reassurance and had an undercurrent of urgency to it. I kissed her back, unable and unwilling to stop the inevitable course that was laid out by nature herself. I gave myself over to Maev and her to me.

Afterwords, as we lie next to each other, she turned to me and spoke.

"Promise me that you will always love me. For I will never be able to live if you no longer hold me in your he..."

I cut her off by placing a finger on her mouth. "Don't speak of such things. You will always be my beloved, and you will always hold a place in mое сердце, my heart." I kissed her again and let nature regain it's hold on us.

Chapter Twelve

Preparing for War

The next four days were uneventful, just a blur of the passages of time. I learned the customs and lifestyle of the vampires. I spent most of my free time with Maev. I listened to peoples concerns and searched through peoples minds to try and discover the source of my assassination attempts. I drank very little, as i was still running off the blood of the Saxons. I decided to go topside on the fifth day after the meeting. Maev begged me not to go, and I nearly stayed, but I had to do something that I could not tell anyone but the druids who came with me. When Markkus asked where I was going, I simply stated that I was going out to run an errand and to check in on some friends.

"But Raeth, you do know that if you are caught outside in the daytime and trouble strikes, me and the boys can't come to your aid," he protested. I raised my hand for him to listen.

"Markkus. I know the dangers of this trip. I'm going to check in on some of my friends and check on the borders to make sure nothing has happened in the search for the renegades. I will be back in two days time. I do have one earnest request, though. Please don't let anything happen to Maev. I want your word, as my friend and as the leader of the Royal Guard. will you give me this?" He nodded and moved out of my way. He retreated into the shadows as I left the hold and walked out into the sun. I was blinded at first, but my eyes adjusted quickly. I walked on to go to my destination: Home.

Maev stepped in front of Markkus and looked him dead in the eyes. "Why did you let him go? He could be caught by those wretched humans! Why did you let him go?!" She sighed and, not waiting for an answer, stormed off to Raeth and hers chambers. Markkus laughed internally.

So protective of her mate. Gods it feels good to not have to shield my mind and my friends minds with that petulant mind-reader gone.

As he hurried through the halls he glimpsed several of his comrades sighing in relief. They could now plan anew. Markkus halted in front of a large, vine covered door. He knocked three times to announce his presence.

As he sat behind his massive desk, reading the words to the next dark magic spell he was learning, Seamus heard the knock on his hidden door.

"Come in," he replied. He watched as Markkus entered, knelt and lowered his head to him. "Rise, my little snake in the grass. Has he gone?"

"Yes, my true king," Markkus replied. Soon that annoying boy they all called King would be gone for good, and Seamus would take over.

Seamus' body was covered in a massive aura of darkness. His red eyes seemed suspended in the middle of the cloud. His voice was low and commanded attention. He rose and walked over to a row of books and removed one. As he seated himself, he motioned to a chair across from him.

"Please. Seat yourself."

Markkus rose and sat in the chair. Seamus opened the book and scanned for the meaning of the word he was stuck on. He sensed Markkus' eye on his sun-blackened hands that had protruded from under his cloak of darkness. He remembered the pain of being exposed to the sun like it was yesterday.

Three days before the brat who sat on the thronehad been raised from his grave and turned, Seamus had been changed. He was not allowed to consume Maev's blood as this boy who had once been his best friend had. No, Maev had not felt for him enough to bond him to her. His cloak rippled with the rage that gripped him. Instead, he was branded by those beasts and subjugated to the pillar as soon as was changed. The sun came up and he had burned, gods he had burned, but Seamus was not reduced to ash like the others. His body was kept alive only by the shadows that raced through his veins. So much power was in his darkness that he survived, but barely. He had fled to the shadows of the hold to recover. He had made those young children hunt for him and bring him those humans. He had fed and fed and fed, and now, over seventy bodies now lay drained at the bottom of the Thames river. As he had fed, his shadows rose up and polluted his mind, but in return, formed the shadow cloak that now healed his dessicated form.

Markkus found him, hiding near this very hidden chamber. He had recognized him instantly and knew he was the true king. He told him of Raeth's rise to power and bonding with Maev. Seamus was instantly full of rage that his once-friend had uprooted any possibility of his own ascent to the throne and Maev. He vowed revenge on his now-enemy. I will kill him myself even as he wears my crown. I already have that simple-minded fool Markkus at my beck and call. He is a good pet. Now he learned the dark magic hidden away by the druids to prevent just this kind of problem.

"Does he suspect me," requested Seamus.

"No my Lord. He knows there is someone against him but I have shielded the minds of our people from him. He is confused by this. He is suspicious of us, but not horribly so."

I don't care about you or your friends, my little snake. Just so long as he doesn't suspect ME! He mustn't know about me until I kill him face to face. "Good. Is Nickolii well enough? Has he been brought back?! Has his brother come back and has his head been re-attached with the magic?! I want him to be there when I kill his brother."

It was a small side project Seamus had. He had raised his old friend, and Raeth's brother, from the grave. He had used the black magic in him to fix Nickolii's headless problem. Now he was nothing but a puppet. No feelings and under Seamus' ultimate control. He was the mindless walking dead, and he would help kill his brother.

Markkus just stared at him, stunned by the sudden intensity of his words.

FOOL! Don't just sit there! Answer me! As a string of words poured over Seamus' lips, they split. Seamus gasped at the pain, then moaned as the darkness repaired the damage. He initiated the truth spell once again. You will answer me!

Before the words could work, his lips split again. DAMMIT!

Markkus glared at Seamus and spoke. "Nickolii has been raised, my King. Remember, I saved you. I got you these books of power. I know you cannot create a spell, for your body is still far too damaged. Three days and you will be whole again. The shadows will go into you and give themselves over to you. You will appear normal, save for when you use the magic you carried since your mortal birth. They will reappear, enforcing and strengthening your magic beyond your wildest dreams. Then you will fight with Raeth. Until then, do not try to curse me, for I, too, have read those books and know their secrets. how do you think I shield this room from discovery or keep our plots secret even from that petulant brat?! Never forget that I could kill you with one word! Even with your spirits racing through you, you are no match for my powers!" Markkus stood after his tirade.

Seamus nodded. Ignorant fool. I will kill you as well. Your powers could not possibly match those of the demons residing in me. Your time will come along with all those who oppose me... "I understand, my faithful one."

Markkus' anger calmed. "I will be on my way. I'll be gathering our forces for battle when Raeth returns on the third night. Be ready to kill indiscriminately, my Lord." With that, Seamus watched Markkus leave with growing hatred.

I will be ready. Both you and that child shall die. My gods help you if you decide to fight me. Seamus glared as the door swung open, then closed. He turned his attention over to more pressing matters.

Seamus resumed his studies of black magic and demon control.

Markkus sped back through the halls to his cohorts chambers. His thoughts were venom-filled and directed toward the boy that sat on the throne. He'll die. I bow to no one but my true King, and the brat makes me bow to him. He will pay tenfold when he bows at my feet and I cut off his head.

As he approached the doors of the second hidden chamber, he slowed to a walk. He did not bother to knock, instead he pushed the doors open and shut it behind him. Seven hundred faces turned to greet him.

Markkus nodded to them all collectively and stood straight. He addressed the whole company as one.

"In three days, we kill the boy who claims to be our king, along with any who stand with him. Prepare your troops and in three nights, we fight against the boy. Leave him to me. Kill any resistance. We are a small number, hundreds facing thousands, but we will defy the odds and destroy our enemies. Then we will reign over the earth and the humans who have sought to eradicate us for millennia. They will be our slaves and we their masters. What say you?"

At his last three words, a deafening roar rose through the assembled generals and the meeting was closed. Each general roused their hundred soldiers and set them to training for the battle to come.

Markkus was twitching with anticipation so much, he could almost feel Raeth's neck crushing below his hands.

You will die.

Seamus sat at his desk, resting and practicing the only spell he was forbidden to practice. His body healed quicker and his shadows went into his body. He would not need three days to heal. One would suffice. After healing, he would leave this dungeon and take the throne by force. no one could resist him. No one would be able to. He would de-throne the queen and rape her, then leave her to the soldiers for entertainment. He grinned and his lips did not split.

You will all pay for your treachery.

As I moved over the land, I knew I would need to walk the bottom of the channel. When I did so, I would have to leave the druids behind. We would reach it in a matter of minutes. As I thought about this problem, I saw the blue waters approach rapidly.

"Gents, this is where I must say goodbye and leave you on the shores of Britannia. Wait here for me. I will be back in a days time." With that, I jumped into the waters and sank to the bottom. I ran through the waters with the speed of a shark. I couldn't wait to be back on Ireland's shores. I remembered the faces of all my friends. Seamus was the one I wanted to see the most, see if he survived the Saxons.

As I ran through the waters, I felt a twinge of unease run through me as I thought about Seamus. If only I had known...

Chapter Thirteen

Shock

As I reached the incline to the shores of my homeland, my anticipation grew in intensity. I was going home for the first time since I was changed. I looked so different that no one would recognize me. I was taller, tattooed, and I shone a bit in the sunlight. My eyes were a bright blue. My skin was hard as diamonds. I was not Raeth, at least, not to them. I decided that only two people would know my secret, besides the dwarf tanner. I would tell my neighbor, if he was still alive. He was the only person in the village that had no connections to anyone, other than myself, believed dead and Seamus. Seamus would think it was totally cool. Of course, I would find out later that he would not be so hospitable, but for now I was blissfully ignorant.

As the waters broke over my head, I realized I was near Dublin. No one was on the shoreline, so I was free to come out of the water and dry off. Just because I didn't need to breath in the water, doesn't mean my clothes and hair wouldn't get wet, and this trip proved it. I had to let my white long sleeve shirt and white slacks dry off before I entered the village. It was early evening, and the peat smoke scented the air from the huts hearths. I would still stick out like a sore thumb, being a naturally attractive creature, such as a fly trap.

When I was dry, I walked to the pub and tossed the barmaid a coin for a drink. The saltwater wasn't as good as mead. I drank deeply to get rid of the taste of raw fish... I felt eyes on my back and decided to try out my mind reading on humans for the first time. It was as I had expected. Curiosity raged through every mind, male and female. When I turned to examine the room, which I had seen hundreds of times before, the curiosity gave way to shock and lust in the women's minds and fear in men's minds. I naturally inspired fear in men. Something to do with my alienness. The men shuddered and went back to their mead whilst the women openly stared. Decided to set them straight. I grinned a little too wide at one of them. She went pale and quickly turned around, as did the rest of them. I scanned the room for Matthew, but he was nowhere to be found. Must have dropped the habit. I downed the last of the mug and handed the barmaid another coin, much to her surprise, and left the bar.

Out in the night air I laughed at the humans who were openly attracted and yet repelled by me. I walked the familiar path to my section of the village and stopped outside my house. Someone had moved into it and the hearth was ablaze with a glorious fire. I watched from the shadows of the next house, as the moon was shedding enough light to expose me. A family, husband, wife, and two children, boy and girl, had moved into my old house.

At least it went to a good purpose and was not left empty after I died, I thought. The fact that my old three room hut was serving another family's lives gave me reassurance that there was some good left in this world. I smiled and went to the house on the other side, sticking to the shadows as much as possible. I decided to go ahead and knock to see if Mat was still up. I heard a shuffling of feet and the door opened a crack. Matthew gasped and opened the door fully and stepped out into the moonlight. He scrutinized my face and his eyes lit up.

"Raeth! You're alive! I don't believe it! Bloody hell! You look good. What happened to you?!" As he spoke, his voice got louder and louder until finally I had to push him against the wall and whisper in his ear through my teeth.

I decided to use Matthews ancestor's language, Romanian, to get through to him. "La naiba, Matthew! Asculta-ma! Eu nu sunt în viaţă! Ştiu cât de bine mă uit, şi ştiu că eşti fericit să mă vezi, dar încearcă să nu-l striga pentru toate sa aud! Dacă oamenii ştiau ce am fost, aş fi vânaţi şi a ucis! M-ai înţeles gravitatea a ceea ce am încercat să-ţi spun?!"

Romanian- "Hell, Matthew! Listen to me!" He basically just warns him to shut up and keep his voice down, that he would be killed on sight...

He understood and motioned for me to let him down. I did.

"So what are you that could get you killed," he inquired in a whisper. Again, I used Romanian to tell him what I was.

"Sunt un vampir." He blanched and crossed himself. He seemed to be completely converted to Christianity.

"My God, man! I knew the stories, but I never put any stock in them. So.. You are immortal?"

"Da."

"Why did you come back? Why are you here when you could be murdered?" He shuddered.

"I came back to check on my friends! I may not be alive, but I still have a concern for my friends who are! Anyway, I am not a normal vampire. I can walk in the daylight. I don't need as much blood to live, though I crave more than most and can drink more than most. I weaken faster, but I can read minds. Yours is quicker than most."

"I see," was all Matt could say.

"Is Seamus alright?" He looked away and shook his head.

"Seamus disappeared shortly after your burial. We don't know what happened to him. No body, no blood, nothing. He just up and left! The bartender saw him leaving the village towards the channel with three people who looked, um, inhuman. Like you. My guess is that he was food. Why are you different from other vampires, besides the day and mind reading thingy?"

I took a deep breath and sighed. "What I tell you, I do so with the utmost discreetness. You must swear to me that you will tell no one. Do I have your word?"

"Absolutely, my friend. you know I am bound by my word."

"Good." I looked him in the eyes. "I am the King of the vampire world."

Matthew positively exploded with curiosity. "No. Fricking. Way. You? A king? Holy Shite! That's awesome!"

"Not as fun as it sounds, my friend," I replied, shaking my head. "I've almost been assassinated six times or more. My wife, the queen, gods she's beautiful, has almost been killed once. My life is not only forfeit in the human world. There are vampires who would see me dead as well."

Matthew's face dropped to shock. He let the gravity of my words sink in and he nodded. "not much fun at all. I wonder.." He trailed of into a thoughtful state.

"You wonder what?"

"Could you find Seamus? I mean, if he were either food or become one of you, could you find him?" He was really laying a lot of stuff on me.

"I can try. Um, do you mind if I come inside, I don't much like being opout in the open without my druid protectors at my sides."

"Oh! How inexcusabely rude of me, my old friend. Yes! Come inside and have some mead. I'll have the wife bring up some meat."

"Uh, maybe that isn't in my best interest. Solids will kill me. Any liquids will be absorbed into my system. Solids, on the other hand, will block my absorption capillaries. So I'll stick with the mead."

Matt Grinned. A wicked glint flashed across his face. "Drinking contest? For old times sake?"

I laughed. "Trust me, you would lose and I could drain your stores without flinching."

Chapter 14

Farewell, But I'll Be back

After a cup of mead and some trading of old stories, Matthew stood up and asked me to follow him into the next room. A large hand-carved wooden desk was the centerpiece, surrounded by books laid upon books. I suppressed a laugh and spoke up.

"So you've become a scholar?" He just laughed and sat behind the desk.

"No, I just thought it would be wise to learn what the world offered. I mean, after you, erm, died, and Nickolii was gone and then Seamus; well I just realized that I was the only one left of our group. That kind of revelation can spur someone into action, man." He leaned back into the bearskin-covered chair. I looked at it, suddenly curious. He caught my staring and sighed.

"Raeth. When you died, no one was there to claim your belongings. I made sure to get this before some urchin nabbed it. I got this," he motioned at the skin, "your bow and all your arrows, your sword, and your bear head." He stood and walked over to a large, yet again hand-carved, wardrobe and opened the doors. He reached in and first produced my sword from the back of the closet.

"I'm afraid your sword got a little fricked up in the fight." He pulled the sword out, hilt first. The sword came out halfway and pulled free. He upturned the sheath and several pieces fell onto the desk. I leaned back and gestured angrily towards the remnants of my old sword.

"Irreparable damage." I shook my head. With that sword, I had killed the she-bear. With that sword, I had killed several Saxon. Now it lay in pieces, my prized possession shattered. Yet I wasn't too upset. I had never thought to see it again anyway...

"I know, my friend," Matt said. "So, before you came, I traveled to the druid keep and sought out the master smith-druid. I showed him the pieces and he agreed with your statement. He said he had something that would serve your memory better than this, and I quote, "shattered hunk of metal shrapnel". I'm sure he knew about you." He turned back to the closet and shoved several things aside.

"I never thought," he grunted as he reached deeper than should have been possible, "that you would come back, so I didn't understand why he didn't just... Aha, got it... fix your old one. He told me to stay the night while he forged a blade of immense power and magic. I scoffed, because I know that a sword takes at least several weeks to make from scratch, even with magic. Yet in the morning, after I had eaten, he ushered me to his forge and told me to wait while he retrieved the new sword." By this time, Matt had pulled a large box from the cupboard and laid it on the desk in front of me.

"Go ahead, open it," he urged me on. I hesitantly raised my hand to the box and was surprised by the heat radiating from the box. I undid the latches and slowly opened the lid.

There, covered by a layer of white silk with my crest on it and only the hilt protruding, lay a sword. Not just any sword, no, there was true elemental magic ingrained into the very makeup of the sword. Heat radiated from it, the deep green blade shimmered and had a slight royal blue glow to it. It's gold hilt glinted in even the dim candle light. The symbols etched into the blade with silver matched the tattoos on my body. The pommel was a large diamond. The diamond seemed to glow brighter than the blade, and dark shadows flicked to and fro inside it's very core, causing the glow of the diamond to shimmer like water. At the tip of the blade was the sun-moon crest. I gasped as I gripped the sword, and its light exploded in brilliant greens, blues, reds, and golds. The diamond's glow seemed to grow tenfold. The room was lit up like noon. Matthew let out an audible gasp. I set the sword back into the box and the glowing blade and diamond returned to normal.

"My God," Matt whispered, "he said it was special, but he never said that would happen!" He whistled. I could tell his thoughts were running wild with questions, then one came to the forefront of his mind. I answered before he could ask.

"The sun-moon crest is the Royal Crest given to me by the vampires. It represents their hopes to one day, well, walk in the sun without burning alive." I shut the lid on the box and cut the light from the sword off completely. Matt returned to the wardrobe and pulled out a sheath for the sword, along with a belt and a sash to carry my bows and arrows. The sheath matched the blade, green. But instead of glowing with royal blue, it seemed to be etched with sapphires in long rows that intertwined and looped around in intricate patterns. The royal crest was the focal point of the whole scheme. The sapphires all radiated from the ruby that bore the crest. The belt was a leather strap that wound about my waist three times before buckling tight. The sash was also black leather.

"I wondered why he gave me all the equipment, but when I asked, he said that I would find out soon enough. Well, here you are!" He chuckled and poured me another cup of mead. I nursed it for a while. Matt shook his head from time to time, thinking about how he could have thought me dead when he knew I was a survivor.

Gods, he could probably survive anything. I startled him by replying to this thought.

"Just about anything, yeah. Hey, I thought you were a Christian, yet I distinctly heard you think gods, as in more than one. Starting to question your faith?"

He gawked at me and I laughed and tapped my head for emphasis. "Oh, yeah, mind reader. I forgot," he stammered. "No, I'm not questioning my faith, just how I could have possibly overlooked this possibility."

"What? Don't Christians believe in the evils of night?" I about cracked up right then. Roman Catholics, even early on, had feared the demons of their old pagan religions. They simply gave those demons Christian monikers like "Satan" or "Beelzebub".

"Yeah, but they told us to ignore them and they would go away. Call me crazy, but I believed them. OH!" He jumped from the chair and retrieved the bow and the arrows from the closet. "Another druid cast spells on this to make sure you never missed, even against another magician. She did the same with the arrows." This caught me off guard.

"She?" I was astonished. I had only heard of male druids.

"Yeah, she. And she is so damn smart. Even with someone like me for a husband." He grinned and wgged his eyebrows. If his first revelation caught me off guard, this one stunned me.

"You mean, that woman in there... She's a..."

"Yep," he replied before I could finish.

"And she's your..." I looked at him pointedly.

"Wife? Yes. You know, you aren't the only one allowed to get married around here," he chuckled. I laughed aloud, shaking with it really.

"Ah, Matthew. It seems forever since I've laughed that much."

"And me as well, my not dead but not living, yet still here friend who just happens to be a king." Another round of laughter from us both. I looked outside and saw the sun slowly rising in the east.

"You know, it has been so long since I saw the sun rise. I still can't go out in front of humans, because I glow slightly in the sunlight. I need to see it again. Will you join me outside my friend?" He stood and walked to the door.

"Guests first," he said. I laughed and gathered my new-found weapons. I let him keep the skin and head, a gift in exchange for the ones he gave me. He had always wanted that coat, and it felt good to give it to my last human friend. I bowed to his druid wife and thanked her for her hospitality. She smiled and said she would be keeping tabs on me, and through her, Matt. Apparently the ancient vampires would not be the only ones with records of my existence.

I walked to the edge of the water of the channel and watched the sun rise with my old friend and his wife and child. The little boy jumped and played in the water. I wondered what it would be like to raise my vampire child. No doubt my ability to withstand the sun would be passed on. I sighed as the sun rose into completeness and I could wait no more.

"My friend. Matthew. I must be on my way, but do not think this will be the last visit. You are a wonderful alternative to the grind of day life underground listening to the woes of my people. Of course, I could spend that time with Maev, but I think it is important to keep our friendship alive. Take care of your life, my friend. You never know when it could change for the worse." I grasped his arm and we shook. As the suns rays pierced the clouds and struck my body, Matt let out a low whistle.

"Well, you were right about one thing. You would stick out like a sore thumb in the daytime. Even a glow that slight could set you up for trouble."

I laughed and waved goodbye to the last human friends I had. I turned and waded into the waters of the channel, letting the cold sink through my clothes and the darkness settle about me. When I got back to the hold, I would actively search for Seamus, as promised. Then I would bring him back to his world and set him up well in the world.

If I had known his intentions, I would have let that Saxon kill him...

Chapter Fifteen

Mal intent

Markkus stood at attention as I walked to the throne. He smiled and bowed. I had no reason to suspect his treachery. I grinned back and tossed him two more coins, which he caught as agilely as possible.

Let me guess. Checking my reflexes? He chuckled as he pocketed the gold.

"Sharp as ever my friend," I laughed. As I walked to Maev, who was barely containing her joy at the moment, I opened my arms. That set her off and she ran flat out into my arms laughing and kissing me. I picked her up and spun her around.

"I've missed you, my lovely," I whispered in her ear. She kissed me again.

I missed you too, mo chroi. She was radiant as ever when she pulled away and took my hand in hers as we walked to the throne. As I seated myself on my throne and motioned for Markkus to come forward, I saw him glance behind him at his second-in-command, Captain McClure. John looked confused, but stayed nonetheless, unwilling to disobey a direct order.

"My Lord, I have apprehended all the conspirators. Would you like to see them?" He turned to look at me.

"Yes, my friend. Bring them before me."

Markkus walked to the back of the hall and opened one of the doors off the main hall. Several vampires were bound and held by magic. As I searched their minds, I found nothing but plans to kill me. I nodded to Markkus and produced a whole bag of coins.

"Markkus, Head of the Royal Guard, please let me show my gratitude by presenting you with this token of my appreciation for your efforts. Accept this gift of seventy gold peices. Will you accept my offer?"

My King! I mustn't! It's too much... I... At this point Markkus' thoughts went blank. I was alarmed but I did not worry.

Markkus' thoughts were fighting against him. Dear gods that's a lot of money... But I have to remain compliant with this brat for a few more hours. I should accept. But what will happen to me after Seamus takes over?! Will I retain my position? Keep up the charade and then kill him later. Accept the gold. Kill him quicker than planned. Mercy for hire.

I looked pointedly at Markkus, whose thoughts were still blank. Suddenly, he smiled and nodded. I grinned and tossed him the bag.

"Thank you my King. I will find a way to repay you." Markkus bowed and slipped the bag into the folds of his black robes.

That's funny, I thought. I don't remember giving the guard black robes... Markkus stiffened and walked faster to his position, as if he could hear my thoughts.

After yet another round of advising other vampires and searching for any more signs of conspiracy, I went to my study to converse with the ancient Guardian of hope. He was standing in the shadows next to the fire. Maev followed me and lay across the couch as I sat at the desk.

"My friend, it's the seventh day. I'm supposed to fight my first battle today. Do you have any insights as to what or who I'm up against?"

The ancient sighed and turned to face me. "My Lord, I have news of the most perturbing natures. I followed Markkus, your Head Guard, whilst you were gone. He is a conspirator. You have a very powerful enemy, for Markkus is just a puppet on the strings. controlled by a magic greater than my own. A vampire who burned before you did was presumed to be dead, but he lives. Most of the Nation is with you, my Lord." The ancient paused and I took advantage of his silence to explode.

"You realise you are bringing serious allegations of treason against several people. And who are you talking about?!" I was incoherent and frantic that the man I had trusted my life with was in league with my enemy. It made me sick.

"My Lord. Before you were risen from your grave, we took one other mortal from your village. His name was..." I cut him off, the pieces of the puzzle finally fitting together.

"Seamus Macleada..." I breathed.

"Yes my King. He burnt as most did in the day, but his body was not completely reduced to ash. Markkus found him and hid him in the place where we Guardians hid the books of dark magic. He has read these books and they have corrupted his mind. He is not Seamus as you remember him. He has lost all semblance of sanity."

"So what you mean is that tonight, I will need to kill my own friend in cold blood, or else he will kill me?"

"Yes, my King. In a matter of hours, the battle will be waged outside the doors to this chamber. I alerted the armies loyal to you and they are hidden off the main hall. Before Seamus' armies get to you, they will be engaged by yours. The problem is that you will have to fight Seamus. Your decisions whilst fighting him will decide the outcome of the battle."

I stood and motioned for Captain McClure, I had just promoted him to replace Markkus in my mind, to bring me my armor. As I fitted on the black plates of steel, I remembered my sword. I ran to the far corner of the keep and retrieved the magnificent blade from the closet. I buckled the sword on and threw the bow and arrow over my shoulder. I placed my helmet on my head, letting the black crest of horse hair fall down my back. The buckles were pulled tight, and the latches on my armor clikced shut to encase my torso in a second skin of black metal. My gauntlets fit onto my hands and the material it was made of shrank to fit my hands perfectly. As I studied the gauntlet on my right hand, I realized that, although they looked like metal, they were some foreign cloth. My braces were placed on my lower legs and were pulled tight to encase my calves in a sheet of metal like my torso. Leather plates went around my waist to protect my upper legs and grant me mobility. My helmet shrank to fit my head and give me optimum sensory perception. I touched the hilt of my sword and the diamond began to provide me with a modicum of some strange energy.

"The battle begins soon my King. Fight well." As the ancient said this, a large explosion sounded outside my study. the doors to the Royal Hall had been blown off their hinges and the sounds of a war party pouring into the hall reached my sensitive ears. Several more explosions as my armies blew from their hiding places to engage the armies of the person who used to be my friend. The sounds of swords clashing and vampires exploding in gouts of blood filled the air. I drew my sword and let the light of the earth flood through me.

Maev gasped and looked from me to the sword. My love. Be careful and come back to me alive and well. I will be waiting for you in our chambers. I love you. With that, she flitted down the escape tunnel to hide.

I love you as well. Guard my heart, I thought as I walked to the doors of my study. I knew she was only staying out of the mayhem for my sanity. She could probably tear hundreds of vampire males to shreds in the blink of an eye. I just didn't like the idea of her putting herself in the way of danger. I would protect her, even with my life. The blade of my sword and the diamond in the pommel began to glow brighter as the energy poured through the light in my veins.

When I raised my hand to push the door open, I found out what the energy did. A strange tingling raced to my finger tips, which began to glow. As I placed my hand on the door, the glow from my fingertips shot out from each finger in a symmetrical pattern that covered the entire door before shooting into the center of my palm and rebounded back to the door. All of this happened in an instant.

The next instant, with a tremendous explosion, the door was blasted off it's hinges and catapulted more than half-way across the Hall into the carnage that now revealed itself. I gasped in horror and fury at the sight. It was something that went against nature in my mind. Vampire against vampire. That should not be happening. The unnatural carnage was everywhere. I grew steadily angrier until my searching eyes found what I had been told I would find. As I scanned the crowd, I saw that familiar lithe shape fighting his way towards me. Seamus. I lost all coherent thought and let the darkness blend with the light and the energy.

I let out a rebel yell and ran full tilt into the mayhem, sword drawn, hand out and ready to teach him a lesson about friendship.

Chapter 16

Righteous Kill

As I barreled my way through the mayhem and sudden onslaught of bodies, I let my light burn through me. I vaguely saw the vampires, both good and evil, shrink back from my glowing form. The light seeped through cracks in my armor and the diamond was channeling more and more magic energy through me. I pointed at a conspirator with my glowing hand because he was frozen in place. As I neared him, a searing jolt of electric energy blasted it's way from my fingertip.

The vampire was raised into the air and thrown backwards, writhing as the magic of the sword created light inside him. Instead of saving him, it raced over his body in lines of fire. He fell to the ground in twitching, half-baked pieces and the whole mess exploded in a shower of sparks, ash, blood, and light. The light took out several nearby fighting pairs. Seamus slowed as he saw the destruction.

"Raeth," he bellowed my name and picked up his speed once more, shoving and slicing his way through the battle as fast as possible. It reduced them both to walking paces. Seamus uttered seven words that rent a fellow vampire in half and shriveled his form to ash. As he spoke the words, his shadows rose behind him, striking out like snakes at anyone who dared get in the way, friend or foe.

I stood my ground as several large vampires lunged at me, swords drawn. I brought my own up and parried the blows. I switched the hand-and-a-half sword to my left hand and began lashing out as the conspiring vampires surrounded me. I grabbed one of the vampires as he rushed me. He had switched tactics to catch me off guard by dropping his sword and attacking me bare handed. He failed miserably. I grabbed his outstretched arm, absorbed the impact with a turn, and twisted my hips up and over, sending him to the ground, where I ran my luminous sword through his skull. He was instantly consumed by green flames as the sword's own magic raced through his body and burnt him from the inside out. He exploded in a cloud of grey ash and bone particles.

The next to go was an axe wielder. He swung at me and stepped in to bring the double head up at my chest. I leaned away from the backswing and brought my sword crashing down on his exposed arm. At least, that's what I tried. He moved away from my counter and spun to cut me in half. I stepped back, and then side-stepped him and brought my sword in a high arch from behind him. His body fell in two pieces at the slanting cut, then exploded into flames just like his partners.

My arms were getting heavier with each successive kill. I could feel my own shadows reveling in delight at the destruction. I tried to ignore it, but as much as I tried, I could not bring myself to condemn it. To be completely honest, I was in my element.

I dodged a low-blow from a sword-bearer and swung upwards with my own to parry his next blow. He reacted fast and swung again. I parried and countered with a twist of my hips and a slash to his gut. I missed as he jumped back, laughing like he was nuts. Maybe he was. I lunged at him and grabbed his shoulder where the stone muscles of his deltoids conected with is scapula and squeezed. Hard. He shrieked as my fingers sent rays of light through his form from the inside as my finger pierced his skin. He was still screaming as I used my hold on him to launch his combusting body at the vampire rushing me from behind. I spun him and launched him at the blitzer. When I let go, I felt the magic disconnect as I called it back, though the body grabbed hold of my gauntlet in a pitiful attempt to take me with him and bared my hand. The hand was so aglow with power that the tattoos were blue instead of black, and the skin was bright as day.

Renewed by the magic, I attaked the next snake. He was covered from head to toe in metal, leaving no place for an attack with the sword. I placed my bare palm on his plated chest and watched as he exploded. I felt his body convulse and shudder as he screamed, the fire becoming everything, and then he nothing. His ashes formed a cloud around my form and I used the short cover to stab and slash at unknowing soldiers. They fell like twigs, writhing as simple cuts opened wide and spread fire over them, destroying them with the earths own magic. I fought this way until I met an obstacle that I knew I would have to face sooner or later.

Markkus finished off a loyal vampire and turned. He looked at me and grinned, sticking up his middle finger as he stood straighter, refusing to bow. I didn't want scum bowing to me anyhow. Rage filled me, and darkness replaced the light. I gave myself over to the pitch black shadows and watched as the diamond in the pommel of my sword was consumed by it's own shadows. They grew and spun out of the diamond. The diamond turned a dark blue as the green blade was turned a deep blood red, and the markings. now black as night, channeled the shadows. Markkus gaped open eyed at it. I used the distraction to flit to his side. My body was red with black tattoos to match the sword. The tattoos were glowing like rubies. I saw my eyes in his reflective helm. They were pitch black with tiny red dots at the center. I ignored this and slammed my red and black striped hand into his throat. He gagged and then laughed as I was shoved back by his magic. I raised my sword and let out a sound that can only be described as a wraith's wail. Markkus' eyes went wide and glassy as he fell at my feet. I hadn't done anything...

As he fell forward, dead with a thrown knife in his back, the shadows retreated and the light re-flooded my system. I was once again glowing white and blue. I saw the knife pull free and a tentacle of shadow return it to it's owner. Seamus stood not ten feet from me, his shadows rising high above him in hundreds of limbs, like branches of a tree with a red eyed Seamus as it's base. He was grinning with the insanity. Each limb, I noticed, was holding a weapon he had picked from his enemies. The dagger was held to his right. Blood trickled from his lips, a testament to how he had killed some of his opponents. He would grab them and his mouth would open wider than should be possible and tear at their necks. He drained them before of blood and shadows, adding theirs to his, before they crumbled to dust.

I was amazed at how powerful this magic of Seamus' was. He always had a gift, even when we were children, but never of this magnitude. I gripped the sword tighter and urged still more of the earth's power through my body. The blade was gleaming as my body's glow struck it's flourescent surface. The blue haze that usually surrounded it was barely visible through the light I emitted. I raised my hand and aimed a jet of pure light energy at Seamus.

I watched in shock as the black shadows enveloped him and absorbed the light. I could hear the maniacal laughter he let out as new black tendrils began to creep along the beam of light. I could feel the evil in him now. I tried to break the connection, but somehow the magic refused to go away. As Seamus' shadows reached my palm, each point of the hundreds of tendrils bore into my skin. I felt the pain as my hand was enveloped by black magic.

I screamed in agony as my own shadows were forcibly removed from my body. As the black evil tentacles reached my mind, I felt the knob of power again. I dove into it and, instead of leaking into me, it exploded with such brilliance and power that, as it raced through my now shadow-free system, it scorched every piece of Seamus' shadows. I screamed in anger now. I let the brilliant white light replace the sun-colored light in my body. I could feel the explosion coming. the beam of energy that connected me to Seamus began to burn his shadows and fuse us together.

Now Seamus was screaming a stream of curses at me, none of which could hold me. I realized that this connection was the outlet I needed to direct the full power of my light's explosion. Seamus' eyes went from frightened to determined when he realized what I was going to do. I shoved some of the light into the connection to test it. The connection grew in it's intensity tenfold. He screeched like a banshee and pushed back with his shadows. As we dueled, a battle of light and dark, the floor and air heated up around us and all the fighting stopped to give us room and to get away from the intense heat. Seamus' shadows were being repulsed by the heat and he was losing power. As the shadows retreated, Seamus' body returned to it's burnt skeletal form. His skull glared at me with those red eyes. He opened his mouth and uttered four words as his lips split and healed and split again.

"You... Took... My crown!" When he said that, I felt nothing but pity for this man corrupted by greed and the lust and sedution of power. I spoke to him for the first time since that day on the battlefield.

"Seamus, my friend. I never wanted it, but I got it. You willingly accepted it, and was corrupted by it. Now you see nothing like it is, just what the demons of the shadows told you." I gave up trying to reason with him as he cackled and reached for me with one clawed hand. I then realised that my friend had been replaced in his own mind, and his body was no longer his. The demon staring at me had taken over. It had chained him inside his head in a small corner, allowing him to see every evil thing it did as it used his body to try and destroy me. As I realised this fact, a single tear escaped my control and fell down my stone cheek. It solidified before hitting the ground, and it shattered on impact, sending tiny diamonds everywhere. I tried something that might help me free Seamus from his prison.

"Demon! Tell me your name!" I yelled this with as much authority as I could muster. The demon in Seamus simply laughed. When it spoke, it's voice replaced Seamus' own and the sound sent fear to the very center of my bones.

"I will never tell you my name!" The sound was that of rock being ground against rock. It was the howling of the night winds in the caves. It was the sound of the earth being rent in half. I shuddered as I recoiled from the sound.

I suddenly went rigid as another presence invaded my mind. It was not the demon's. This essence seemed vaguely familiar and was the most comforting thing I had ever felt. I held onto it as it enveloped me, as it empowered the light in me, making the glow from my body shine even brighter.

Raeth...The sound of the voice sent shockwaves through me. I froze in place as the connection between me and Seamus grew hotter and hotter. I summoned up the only part of me that was not froze. My mind.

Mother? I thought towards the voice in my ear and head.

Yes, my beloved child. As the voice confirmed my recognition of my own mothers voice, I felt a wide grin cross my face and the diamond tears I had been holding back fell free.

I missed you so much, Mum. Me and Nick both. But I will join you soon. I don't have it in me to destroy Seamus' body along with the demon in him. I confessed my weakness openly and without shame. It seemed as though time had stopped outside my mind.

I know a way to save him, my son, and you shall live as well. My heart leaped at the thought that maybe I wouldn't have to kill my old friend after all. But it will cost you. You must give him a part of your light to help free him from the demon. Use the words I tell you. State them out loud, and the demon will be removed and Seamus will be free. He will become what you were. Half light, half dark. You, my child, are now pure and holy, yet still a vampire. Now, before we kill the demon, let us save your friend. He will think clearly once more. Now repeat after me... I listened to her words and was shocked at first, but she warned me about waiting too long. Do it now, my son, before Seamus dies as well! I opened my mouth and yelled directly to the demon.

"Lucifer! In the name of Jesus Christ my Lord and Saviour, release your hold on my kin and and show yourself!" These were the words my mother spoke. She died a pagan, yet her soul was like that of a Christian's.

Seamus' body morphed and I removed my other gauntlet from my hand as the evil shadows mixed with the normal shadows as his body was freed from the demon. I placed my hand on his heart and released some of my light into his body ro dispell the evil shadows, then did the same with his head. He gasped and his withered body swelled and healed as the light combined with the shadows and changed his entire being. When he fell to the ground coughing, his eyes brown and his body slightly glowing, he looked at me and gave me one of those cocky-but-eternally-grateful grins.

"Raeth! Thank you so..." He stopped and his eyes rolled back into his head. He fell over and slumped into a table, falling comicly asleep. I hid my grin. A loud cackle distracted me from my friends new lease on life. I still had work to do.

Now do as I tell you Raeth, my mother instructed me. I had been letting the pressure of the light build all this time like a bomb. The connection that used to run from me to Seamus now ran from me to an immense shadow-wrapped being that emanated pure hate. Two red eyes glared at me, and a wide mouth grinned, revealing razor-sharp teeth, and the blood from vampires on it's chin.

"I will consume you as I have every other of your kind that fought against me!" It came towards me.

Now, my love! I was shocked to hear Maev's voice in my head, and to see her, face as determined as it was angry, shoot an arrow into the demons back and tie off the rope that was attached to the arrow to the cave wall. The demon howled and grinned again at me, ignoring the arrow until it jerked taut and stopped him. Yet he kept grinning.

As I summoned more energy and put more pressure on the bomb that threatened to go off in me, I managed a strained response to that awful sneer.

"Eat. This." I released the pressure through the connection and the light sent a shock wave through the entire stronghold, rocking the very foundations of our world. When the light blazed across the room, it incinerated the ramining evil shadows between me and the demon, yet left everyone else alive. When it collided with the demon, his eyes widened and he screamed death into the air. The light shut him up before he could finish the curse on my people.

My power struck him dead in the chest and sunk into his body. His black shadow-skin bubbled and he convulsed and shook like he was being shocked. His screeches were so loud that they would have exploded a normal humans head. He scratched at his body as the bubbles popped and hissed and oozed green slime across it's black shadow-body. The next instant, the demon convulsed and gagged as the shadows it was made of exploded with the force of tens of thousands of Roman firebombs. I was blown across the room as the force caused the room to shake and a long, deep line to open in the floor. The shadows were sucked into the hole and the earth closed around them. The demon's true form was revealed now.

A shriveled, red-eyed old man knelt on a crutch where the demon's shadows had left him. His voice was still unsettling. I watched as Maev descended the stairs from the toppled thrones and stood before the demon. She was dressed in thight-fitting leather armour and had a bow across her back and a sword in her hand. She had tied her flame-red hair back with a black velvet band. She was as excruciatingly beautiful as an angel of death as she was when she stood next to me in her queen's attire.

"Come now, woman. you want his power as well, do you not?" The old demons voice rumbled from the old body. He gestured at me. I could barely hear Maev's response, but I still heard it.

As she raised her sword high above her head, she responded to the demons question. "I only want him to love me as much as I love him. You tried to take him away from me, and that is an act not only against him and the nation, but me as well." The demon chuckled.

"Hell hath no fury like the wrath of a woman." He laughed aloud as Meav severed his head from his shoulders and his body erupted in black flames. The head rolled and burst apart in a shower of dust. Maev put away her sword and came to me. I could only stare in awe at my wife. She had changed from a delicate flower to a hardened warrior-woman. This new revelation of character awed me as a newly found adoration tookhold of me. She took my arm and spoke to me whilst what was left of my loyal followers apprehended the conspirators and did away with them one at a time.

"Let us leave this place of treachery and go to our chamber. I wish to tell you about my past, about everything that happened to me before I met you." Her voice was low and serious. I nodded and kissed her forehead before I responded.

"I would follow you anywhere, my Warrior Queen." She smiled and led me away from the hall.

I was in for a shocking revelation that would only make me feel that much more for the mystery that was my wife, my lover, and my best friend.

Chapter 17

Revelations

As Maev and I walked to our chambers, I began to think about what Maev could possibly tell me that was so serious. She had her eyes diverted from me, which she never did. She wasn't smiling, and her eyes were distantly focused and full of ancient sadness. She was stooped and looked very tired. To accentuate this even further, she stumbled and blinked as I caught her. A small wan smile graced her features.

I had promised to never let her features reflect that sadness, yet it seemed I wasn't able to hold my own. She had just seemed like such a radiant and happy woman, but here she was next to me, eyes down and shoulders hunched. Her red hair was getting loose from her band and falling across her fallen face. I reached up to remove a strand from her cheek and place it back, but she flinched. I was suddenly aware that somewhere in her past, maybe centuries earlier, someone had damaged her for life, and even after. I stopped her and turned her to look at me. As she diverted her eyes, gently, but with undeniable strength and turned her face to me. The look in her eyes cut me through to my soul.

Maev raised her eyes and I saw a deep-seated anger, buried under sadness, covered again by a strong determination, covered still by a facade of happiness. As I looked into her eyes, I spoke to her.

"Maev. You have to tell me who caused this. I cannot stand having you bear the burden of whatever it is that has hurt you. I told you that first week that we were together that you could tell me anything and that nothing you could say could ever make me leave you. What happened to you?" I sighed as her eyes softened and she once again looked away, shaking her head. I sighed and drew her close to me. I would never invaded the privacy of her mind unless she directed her thoughts to me, and right now she would have not reacted very well if I tried. I held her closer as we walked to the chamber that we shared.

My mind was running in circles, not of thoughts, but of emotions. my mood shifted constantly from confused, to curious, to angry with myself, to angry with whoever did this to her, to being simply sad at the fact that the woman I loved had suffered at all. As we entered the room, Maev shooed the guards from the room. I glanced at her and she caught my eyes confusion.

What I am going to tell you, my love, is something no one else must ever hear, and no one else has ever heard. I trust you with this, my darkest secret. The secret of my past. I will understand if you no longer wish to be with me, but I will be freed from the hell of keeping a secret from you. I nodded and then motioned the guard, who hesitated at the stare down, which was what our conversation had been, and he walked away, thoroughly confused, if I read his thoughts correctly. Maev walked over to the bed, she removed her velvet band and set it carefully on the bed. As she undid her top, she thought her intentions to me.

What I am going to show you, as you have never seen me from behind, for I have not allowed it, you must never tell anyone about it.

"My love, as you have trusted me, I will never betray you. I will keep your past safe and secure within my mind. You have nothing to worry." I took a step closer to her but she shook her head infinitesimally, halting me. She pulled loose the tie that held the back of her top together and the back split apart to reveal her bare skin. I gasped and rushed to her, ignoring her protests. I had never been so angry yet so saddened by a single sight before.

Maev's back was criss-crossed with scars and red marks that had been seared deep into her stone flesh before she was turned. A brand was placed on her lower back, near her hip. It was a horror story written in undying flesh. She would have them for eternity. I turned her to face me once again and her eyes were wet. She had begun to cry crystal tears.

"My gods, Maev! What happened to you," I demanded. She was crying freely and I held her until the sobs stopped and she dried her eyes. She looked at me and smiled that angelic smile that made her face light up. I couldn't stop the small, fleeting smile that escaped. She removed my bloody helm and worked at undoing the latches on my armor. As the peices fell away, it revealed that my skin was glowing slightly. Maev touched my arm hesitantly, but the light did not harm her. She traced the blue lines of my tattoos and then moved on. When I was down to my knickers, I stood up and reached for my robes. Maev sighed, and I knew she was hoping that I had forgotten the sight of her battered and mauled back.

As I placed my black robes and lie down on the bed, she removed the rest of her battle garb and shrugged on her own robes of blue. She sat on the bed next to me and traced the contours of my chest as she prepared her thoughts. She sighed as she saw that I was staring at her face, trying once again to discern her past. She smoothed the small lines that appeared in between my brows whenever I concentrated and kissed my forehead. She sidled closer to me and leaned to lie across my chest as she spoke.

"Raeth, what you have seen of me in the last weeks is nothing but a carefully cultivated cover for something that hurts deeper than those scars you saw on my back. I am going to tell you my past. It is not a pretty life filled with delicacies and privilege, for I was worthy of neither in the eyes of any of my kin or the members of my village. I was an undesirable, a curse." She took a deep breath, looking away, and I stroked her back to encourage her. I couldn't see how she could be considered a curse of any sort. When she looked back at me, the smile had faded and her eyes had the distance back in their depths of forest green. She seemed to look through me as she continued.

"I wasn't born into the world you were. In my world, men were brutes who took what they wanted and never felt any remorse. The women in my world never had any say in anything that happened, be it to another tribe or to themselves. Women were cattle and used for two things: sex and food. I was always obedient, and never did anything to gain thebrutality that the men could unleash without any warning. the rules changed from day to day, and women would be beaten and brutalized hourly for doing some made-up crime. I got beat several times a week and never put up a fight. I always cried out, because that's what the men relished." She wiped a small tear from her eye and flicked it across the bedroom, watching as it sailed and solidified then shattered on the wall in a shower of sparkles. A small laugh escaped her lips. It was a bitter, hard sound that saddened me to the core.

"And then one day it became too much. A big brute of a man came up to me. He was a drunken sot and he grabbed me by my waist, laughing drunkenly. He was going to take my virginity, which I had managed to keep by not being near the men at night. That night, however, I failed to get out of the way fast enough. As he threw me on the bed and ripped my bodess open, I just snapped. I prized myself as pure, and anything I felt so deeply for had to be protected. He had taken his sword from his waist and laid it at the side of the bed. I reached over as he descended to take me. I got the blade and put the tip into the fork of his legs before he could get to me. I didn't mean to do anything but get him away, but he stumbled at the touch of cold steel in such an unexpected area. The sword cut his poison from his body and he screamed in pain. the scream brought the other men from the mead-hall and I froze, bloody blade in hand and eunuch at my feet.

"The leader of our tribe grabbed me by my neck and choked me until I passed out. I woke in an upright position, naked and tied by my hands in the torture masters room. It was overheated in the small hut and the fire only added to it. I heard the old man rustling around behind me. I... He used a whip with old peices of metal on me first. The first lash was horrible. I screamed in agony as the second and then third cracks of his whip cut me open. I bled freely onto the earth.

"I felt his hands on me and I thrashed against his hands. He was a eunuch, so he could not take my purity, but he could still hurt me. I yelled at the top of my lungs that I would do worse to him when I healed. He stopped groping me and resumed the lashing, twice as hard. I didn't think he would ever stop. When at last he did, I was at first relieved. Then I felt the heat from the fire get even hotter. I knew what was coming even before the lines of searing heat were gouged into my flesh. I felt my skin bubble and burn as the wounds instantly cauterized under the poker. He removed it from my skin only when the blade grew cold. He put me through hell as I slowly lost all feeling in my back. I could feel the pressure, but my nerve endings were dead." I shuddered and grew progressively angrier as Maev told me of her past life as a mortal human. I held her closer and tried to comfort what was too deeply ingrained into her being for me to comfort. She had tears falling again, and I wiped them away from her hard and angry eyes.

"When at last my torture was ended, the torture master brought one last piece of hot iron to my skin in a place that could still feel. He gave me this." She grabbed my hand and forced it to her hip. I felt the burnt skin and shuddered. She had granted me knowledge of herself that no one else knew. She gripped my face in her hands and forced me to look at her.

"So you know what the symbol means, my love?" I shook my head, the symbol I had seen was not in any language I knew of. "It means untouchable. It means that if you touch me, you will be shunned by the community all over the world. It means you are dead to them, as I am. I was sent from the village and beaten away, my back not healed, into the wilds in the middle of the cold season. It was snowing and I died the first night. I was raised from my grave and transformed into the queen of the vampires by the druids. I was healed as far as the druids could. Some scars cannot be removed even with magic. I do not hurt, I do not ache. I even sometimes forget they exist at all.

"When I am with you, I forget about the scars completely, even when we make love and something in me tries to remind me of the brute who almost had me. I cannot begin to tell you what you have done for me. In the past weeks, I have been changed from a bitter woman with a single-minded disregard for the male of any race, but when I was told of you, something in me became curious. When I saw you first, I thought nothing of you. You were male. I did not care for you. But then I saw you do something that I thought men were not capable of.

"You helped a young girl off of the ground and gave her what ever she needed. You did not try to make advances, and you gave her shelter for the evening. And when her family came, you gave her back untouched and whole. You passed my first test more than I thought ever possible. You caught my attention the moment you helped me without any pretenses of becoming overly familiar. From that day, I followed you, trying to find a flaw in you, but I could not find any.

"I slowly felt myself coming out of my shell of hatred and anger. I felt so strange. I was captivated by your face when you thought about a hard problem and was awe-struck when you helped your friends and even strangers without asking for anything in return. In you, I saw what men should be. Loyal, compassionate, caring, and honest. I suddenly realised that I felt something I never thought possible. I was in love with you, a man. I watched as you grew and yet stayed the same. the same man I had fallen for. The Druids then told me that I would pick their king." She glanced away from me, an uncertain edge to her voice. I knew what was coming, and I had already forgiven her.

"I knew only one thing about kings. They were not like you. They were drunkards and ruthless with a single-minded ferocity. They held no respect for anyone but those who had power. I would not have a king like that, but you were too good for the image that came with the word king in my head. Your friend that you saved had a powerful magic, but he was not altogether good. He drank a lot, as a king would, but I felt nothing for him. Then the Saxons came ashore and I could do nothing but watch as your mother died of natural causes and then the Saxons killed your brother. I almost went to you, but then remembered that I was supposed to have left the island. I held back and watched as a blazing courage set in you. I watched you fight your way through the ranks of those monsters who were so much like the man who tried to rape me. I watched as you fell under the sword of the Saxon King. Afterwards, I cried whenever I was alone. I let them change Seamus and test his body against the sun. He failed and then we all thought him dead." Maev searched out my eyes and the look in them was no longer sad. She was content now that she no longer held the entire burden of her secret pain. She smiled and kissed my lips softly. We both smiled and she continued.

"I went to the Guardians of Hope Leader and begged for him to ressurect you as they had done me. You had been dead for two days and would not be whole was his excuse. So I tried to get a friend of mine, the one who agreed to secretly raise you from the dead. I was happy, yet I was worried what would happen to me when you became king. So I decided to bind you to me. I wanted you to be mine, and I to be yours. It was crazy to me. I never felt like this before. So when you came from the holding chamber to be marked as the future king, I felt the heat that rose in me whenever I saw you. I felt my stomach heave with emotion as you looked at me like you had never seen me before. The look on your face was a mix of wild fear and yet a strong undertone of raw lust. I saw your eyes widen when you saw me and then saw it as the lust in your eyes was replaced by something that I didn't understand and still don't..." I interrupted her and spoke for the first time since she started.

"Maev, my beloved, what I felt for you was indeed lust, but then I knew I could not do anything about it because it would be wrong for me to take you without your consent. Even then, it would not sit right with me if we were not bonded to each other as husband and wife. I hold more respect for you that I have never had for any other woman, mainly because I had never loved before. What you saw replacing the lust in me was a fierce determination to be with you in all the right ways. Even after, I would not take you unless you wanted me to. I must say that, when you accepted me and took me as your husband and gave yourself so willingly, I was completely..." Before I finished my sentence, Maev lunged at my face and pressed her lips against mine. She was laughing when she pulled away.

"I should have known. I watched you for three years and should have known that you would not do anything to compromise your own honor our corrupt my own virtue." She fell into a fit of laughter which stunned me completely. The sudden change in our conversation had left my head spinning. Suddenly we were not discussing her pains. Instead, we were discussing my morals and how little we really knew of each other. When her fit ended, she was smiling broadly at me. Maev was unburdened of her memories and she was free to be herself, free of the facade of delirious happiness. She was free to be content or unhappy as she pleased. When she looked back at me, she was smiling a small grin as she kissed me again, thoroughly this time. She pulled away and lay her head on my chest once more, the same contented smile on her face. She listened to my heart again.

"It feels good to be myself after decades of being someone else. Raeth?"

"Yes, darling," I replied, still stunned.

"Thank you. Thank you for showing me love without hurting me. Thank you for helping me get away from my past. I think you will be a better king than I thought. Now, kiss me and let us think no more of my past or yours. We have all the time in the world and we shan't spend another second of it dwelling in the past." I laughed, shoving the stunned side of me away as easily as a breeze would move the morning mist, and kissed her, forgetting the past as she suggested and gave myself over to the moment of the present and future.

If I had known what the future held, I would have ran from the vampire stronghold with Maev and never looked back.

Chapter 18

Monotony Removed

The next days and weeks, and then subsequent months were spent in a rigid schedule that never deviated, causing a great boredom to fall over me. The only times that the monotony was relieved were those few stolen hours a week with Maev, and helping my friend recover from his ordeal of possession. Seamus was bedridden for weeks, asleep in a magic-induced coma to help his body heal itself without any extra exertion. When Seamus woke, he would feed, and then he would be put back under, surrounded by a triangulum of healing magic to assist his body. Each day, Seamus seemed to respond better to his treatments, his quick wit and sharp humor returning.

"So when did you and her, um, you know..." Seamus wagged his eyebrows like a villain. I laughed and sighed, glad to see my old friend back in control of himself. "Come on, man! What was it like?! She's hot! Speak, man, speak! Spill!" I raised my hand, laughing too hard at all his crazy requests to answer him right then and there. He would laugh, but each time he did, he was racked with spasms and blood came out of his mouth from his not-fully-healed lungs.

"I'll answer your questions when you are well enough to fully appreciate the, um, maturity of it." I knew that would get him going. He went red, and then he did something I never thought he would do when his maturity was threatened. He grinned and suppressed a fit of laughter. When his face returned to a healthy white, he nodded.

"I'll get you for that one, Raeth. You know how well I do revenge." Another repressed fit and I nodded.

"Well, my good friend. It seems we are not out of the woods. You need to heal, and I need to attend to my duties as King. When you get well, I shall see to it that you get a good seat on my council. You alone know the workings of a demons mind." Seamus grinned and tapped his chest.

"Not something I'm likely to forget, Baneson." Seamus then nodded to the druids set around him and closed his eyes as they began to chant. They raised their arms toward each other and a green light beamed from each hand to the next and connected to a crystal suspended over Seamus' bed. A pyramid of green light surrounded Seamus and then a beam of the light went from the pyramids apex to into his chest, raising his now-comatose body into the air and bathing him in more light. He would stay this way for a few days, healing enough for a feeding.

After leaving Seamus to his healing, I moved with all due swiftness to the Royal Hall. I was already late for my advising meeting. As I passed the vampires, they bowed and I instinctualy searched their minds, paranoid now. I found nothing, per usual, yet I felt I could never let my guard down. I reached the doors to the hall, still being fixed by workers, and I nodded to each in turn.

I told them when they began that they did not have to stop their work to bow. They had quickly greed with me, stating that the sooner their job was done, the sooner they could return to their mates and lives. I told them that if they hurried, I would pay them generously, but they refused, saying that they took pride in how they worked. They did each part separately, not wanting to pass over any detail. I gave up trying to make heads or tails of it. They wanted to get home, but they were proud of their work and didn't want to do a bad job. That's what I got...

I continued down the walkway at a breakneck speed, stopping at the beginning of the steps to the throne, bowing to the head druid. Maev was sitting stoically on her throne, smiling slightly. Since she had told me of her past, she seemed to be trying less at being someone else and more at being herself. She and I would sit up when we had time alone and speak of what she wanted. She told me she was tired of being alone, that even with me, she felt sort of lost. When I asked her what I could do, she said it wasn't something I needed to do right now. It was something that would happen by itself when the time was right.

I was admittedly confused, but decided not to pry. I simply nodded and let her take me. She wanted everything to come from her, not letting me kiss her back. Each night we spent together was yet another night that was not long enough for us to get our fill of each other, yet we both had duties to perform, and we both anticipated the next night. It's what got me through the most mundane portions of my days and weeks, and eventually months.

Maev grinned broader than she had since she revealed her past to me, her face becoming angelic once more. I was relieved and grinned back. Last night had been especially heated. As I rose and walked to my throne, Maev's eyes followed each movement. As I sat, she whispered low enough for only me to hear.

"When this is over, I've got something to tell you," her voice sang with joy. The cryptic message had me on edge the entire time, but Maev never stopped grinning and fidgeting in her throne. When she laughed a little, she caught my confused glance and she stopped, but then started hiccuping... That made us both laugh so hard that each bubble of air started us anew. Crystal tears ran down my face by the time I regained my composure.

The hall had fallen into fits of snickering and bellowed laughter. As I called for silence, Maev disguised yet another hiccup as a sneeze, and I struggled to keep my insane laughter in. I didn't look at her, for I knew she would still be beaming and covering her mouth with her hand. I pushed the image aside, that alone could set me off.

I resumed the round of twenty thousand questions and finished it quickly, curious as to what could make Maev so happy all of a sudden. She seemed to glow a little bit from inside.

As the vampires filtered out, Maev jumped to her feet and dragged me into my study, slamming the door behind her. In the darkness of the firelight, I realised that she was glowing, literally. I was stunned and she only smiled away, brimming with some amazing secret that she was dying to tell me.

"Alright, my dear. what is it that's got you in such high spirits?" I wasn't mean about it, in fact I said it with actual intense curiosity. She laughed and danced to my side.

She sat me down in my chair, and sat on my lap. When she whispered in my ear, I thought I might pass out from shock or pure ecstasy, or both.

"Raeth, I'm pregnant!"

Chapter 19

"Daddy!"

If I were standing ,you could have knocked me over with a feather... As I sat there, stunned, a deafening silence filled the room. My mind had stopped working and just sat in my head like a stick in the mud, shocked and awed. Maev was sitting on my lap, but I barely felt her weight. She was searching my face, but I couldn't see her. I was flying, elated by this new chapter in my life. I was going to be a father! The words bounced around in my head and echoed in Maev's bell-toned voice.

"Raeth? Are you okay?" Maev had a curious look on her face, as if my slight grin and dumbfounded look made her think I was upset. I looked at her glowing face, and it finally sunk in. A giant grin spread across my face and I picked her up, swung her around, and kissed her roughly, laughing the entire time.

"Good, I thought you had gone catatonic," she said during a break in her own laughter.

I hugged her fiercely and kissed her again. The joy I felt in that moment was the most exhilarating feeling I had ever felt. It was every man's dream come true. To be a father... My gods... I was speechless, only able to express my jubilation through laughter and crazed hugging. When most of my fascination had expended itself, I sank back onto the bed and chuckled. I was... I... Wow.

Maev sat next to my lounging form and took my hand in hers. She played her fingers over the intricate blue tattoos that moved like wildfire, seeming more like smoke than brands. The white part of my skin pulsated in sync with the rush of endorphins that seared it's way through my system. I was feeling every drop of it, too. The grin I had plastered across my face was likely never to be erased, even in another battle. I was ready to implode with happiness. It's impossible to explain this feeling, so I'll stop trying.

I sighed a contented sigh and pulled Maev down next to me. she giggled, something she hadn't done since her revelation, and snuggled up next to me.

"What are the odds that two vampires could get together and have a child..." she contemplated.

"Not good, but I'm glad it's happened to us," I responded. She giggled again and the glow inside her intensified and she gasped, holding her stomach. After a bit, she exhaled and smiled up at me.

"The baby's growing fast. Just kicked me!" She giggled again. I'd never seen her in such high spirits, even when she was faking it. But now I was confused.

I knew little of birthing, or the whole incubation of a baby, but I knew that a baby couldn't kick in it's first day.

"How long have you been with child, my love?" I asked with earnest interest.

"About a month. It's just now started to manifest itself visibly on my body. I'm a bit bigger. I glow like you do," another giggle. Apparently she found it funny, and I could see why. She glows when she's pregnant, and only then. I glow all the time.

"Har har har," I said before falling into my own laughter fit.

"And I crave more." That one stopped my mind once again. The child craved blood already. Not even a month old and it's parentage was already showing.

"You mean... The baby has cravings for, well, blood?" She looked at me and nodded. "Well. I, uh, I guess we'll have to find a way to satisfy it, right darling?" another, happier nod.

After spending the night discussing how we were going to get the extra sustenance, we set our plan into motion. I called Captain McClure over from his place in formation as I walked to the Throne. He followed and fell to my right when I bowed, as always, to the druid. When I had seated myself next to a stunning Maev, I called McClure up to me.

"John, I have a need for your services." He just nodded. "Can I count on all descretion on your part in this?"

"Yes, my Liege."

"Here's the thing. You will soon have a very hungry little prince or princess running through the halls of this stronghold," I glanced at Maev while I said this. She grinned and hid a giggle fit behind her hand. She was so happy, really and truly, no faking...

John's face went whiter than usual. "Um, yeah... Y'mean she's with child? Whoa... and whaddya mean 'very hungry'? As in, in need of our kinda drink?"

"Yes, John. Our kind of drink. Could you find a few for me? Meav's eating for two now."

"Sure, m'Lord. Absolutely! Wait a minute, is that why she's all aglowin' like that?!" He was grinning ear to ear now.

"Yes John. Now please, hurry! I want a healthy child!" He bowed and ran down the stairs, or at least he ran as much as possible, being bow-legged and all. As he scampered down the hall, he motioned for a few of his men to follow. Not something I wanted.

I cleared my throat and he stopped. "No one else goes with you, my friend. There are rules to be left intact."

He turned around and bowed again. "Yes, m'Lord." He motioned his men back into place and took of, hobbling away as fast as he could.

I shouldn't have sent anyone out that night. A storm was brewing on the horizon, and McClure was the first casualty.

Chapter 20

Birth

A little more than a month after her revelation, with the disappearance of Captain McClure weighing heavily on my conscience, Maev gave birth to our children. Twins who were total polar opposites. As Maev gave a great cry of pain and the first child came forth into the worl, a shock fell over the attending vampires. The child, a healthy baby boy, was pure Shadow. He had no light in his tiny form, yet he wasn't evil or black. He was simply pale and dim, the perfect vampire of the night. We called him Keir, in the language of my ancestors. The next moment, Maev gave another cry and I was shocked to see another child coming forth. The child was brilliant. She was the exact opposite of her brother. She radiated warmth and the Light of Danna. We named her Kenzie. She was a creature of purity and goodness. The surrounding vampires flinched back from her, but her light did not incinerate them.

As Maev reached for the boy, such love in her eyes and all pain forgotten, she smiled and cradled her firstborn in one arm and her secondborn in the other arm. Night and day, they were, but still my children. I loved them and was instantly protective of them. No one would harm my babies. No one.

As Johnny McClure stumbled his way through the darkness of the forest, letting his vampiric senses guide his way, he heard the Formorii clashing and roaring after him, their disfigured and misshapen bodies crashing through the trees and converging on him faster than he could move.

As he dashed into a clearing he stopped and fell to his knees, a white flash of pain ratcheting through his mind as the druid worked his black magic to incapacitate McClure. As he went down, the Druid Fearas materialized in front of him, covered in black robes and cowled by a great hood of black. McClure could see only parts of the evil magician.

The only visible portion of Fearas face was the mouth that was blackened and cracked from the powerful words that spilled through his lips. His clawed hands appeared at the ends of his black robe. His skin was mottled green and his slack green hair fell like seaweed around his robed shoulders from inside his black cowl. He raised a hand at McClure and uttered words so terrifying and filled with pure evil, that they cannot be written down in any language.

The words issued forth a bright green jet of fire that engulfed the fallen vampire's hand, searing it off at the wrist. As McClure writhed in agony, holding his stumped arm and crying at the loss. The druid opened his blackened maw and spoke with a voice as terrible as Death himself.

"Tell me what I want to know or I will pry it from your cold, dead mind." With those words, he urged the fire forward again, this time lashing it out like a whip, leaving charred stripes across the vampires face. The vampire writhed as the heat of the fire raced through his face, dissolving the eys in their sockets and shriveling his tongue to a stick of burnt meat.

"Useless. just like all other vampires... Except for one. since you will not tell me where he is, I will leave you to my pets, the Formorii." He waved a hand at the vampire cowering before him, restoring only his tongue, so he could hear the screams and feed on his shadows when he died. What he wasn't expecting was the remark from this pitiful creature.

"Your pets? But you yourself are half Formorii!" With that, the Formorii's mismatched bodies converged on the fallen Captain, ripping shreds from his stone flesh and slowly destroying him. when they finished, McClure lay in pieces, scattered all over the vale. As his shadows emerged from the torn piece of torso that contained his dead heart, Fearas sang out a dark tune, inducing the shadows to come to him and replenish his centuries old body.

When he finished, he took the dead man's head in his hands and sung another dark spell. As he sang, images of the direction to the vampire stronghold, and in turn his prize, spun around him like a whirlwind. He saw his target several times. The boy would never remember his father or mother. He would be a tool for Fearas' use, and when he had served his purpose, he would die. His shadows, so powerful and plentiful, would sustain him for another few decades.

He dropped the head and broke the spell in mid-casting. The Formorii surrounded him and gazed expectantly. If Fearas could keep them under the impression that they would rule, he would have no problems. If they began to distrust him, he would be forced to devour their minds and leave them as dumb slaves. That would prove to boring for him,, though. He enjoyed the apprehension that keeping them in line created in him.

As he walked forward on silent feet, he burnt all the pieces of McClure in gouts of green fire, all but the head, which he was saving for a gift. When he finished, he waved for the Formorii to follow him. As they approached, he uttered one word and he vanished, transported through space and time, to his intended target. The Formorii shimmered as they also slipped through the void to follow their master.

As I walked the halls of the hold, several vampires were shouting their heads off in congratulations on my twins. They were healthy and beautiful, more than I could have ever asked. Kenzie seemed not to have the appetite of a vampire, she never even cried for human food. she never ate, though she grew like a normal human child. Kier was once again the exact opposite of his sister. He craved vast amounts of blood, never seeming to be satisfied. He, too, grew like a normal human child, even with the gluttonous amount of blood. Even so, I loved my son and daughter. they were so amazing.

Maev was ecstatic over our children, holding them as often as possible and covering them with kisses and playing with them with so much tenderness and love in her heart. She was constantly beaming now. Her radiance had not diminished from her stomach, but instead, it had spread throughout her body, making her the third person like I used to be. she was half shadow and half light. She was still perfect, but I was biased.

Kenzie was the spitting image of her mother, with the exception of the hair. Her eyes were emerald green, but her hair was a rusted brown, like mine. She had her mothers small nose and almond-shaped eyes. she was so bright that some of the vampires openly stared at her when she was carried through the halls.

when I reached our chambers, I found Maev cooing and giggling along with the children as she played with them, causing them to giggle in response. They were so small and innocent that no one could help but love them. I walked over to her and she looked up at me with amazement in her eyes.

I could never have believed that I would be a mother. It's so amazing! Her eyes watered with the joy that had become her very essence. I pulled her close and kissed the top of her head.

"I know, my love. I could have never believed it myself. I'm so glad to see you happy again. We have two beautiful children and have all the time in the world to watch them grow." She grinned and wiped her eyes before she planted a quick peck on my lips, which I returned. Together, we watched the babies interact.

"I wonder..." I trailed off mid sentence.

You wonder what, love?

"I wonder what their minds hold."

Well, try it. It doesn't hurt. I'm sure it'll be wondrous.

"Alright, my love." As I closed my eyes and prepared myself, I sent a mental probe to my sons mind. When I entered his mind I felt his presence in my mind, and it was massive. He enveloped my mental touch and I heard a clear, deep bell-toned voice, much to old for him.

Daddy?

I was stunned as the tears came to my eyes. Yes, my son. It's your father. I wasn't ready for his reply.

I love you daddy. And mommy. She's pretty!

"What is he thinking my love," Maev's voice broke through my stupor.

"He... He loves us. And... And he thinks... he thinks your pretty..." I trailed off into stunned silence. Maev crowed with delight and picked up our son and kissed him and hugged him. she cooed to him and spoke to him,

"Of course you love us, Kier! We love you too and you are the handsomest boy alive!" The baby squealed and laughed.

As Maev was holding onto Kier in awe, I extended my mental probe to Kenzie. Her mind was also massive in it's presence. She recoiled at first, but then grew more curious.

Papa? I heard you talking to Kier. He and I can speak to each other without words. Like you can do, only two ways!...she rambled on and on. Her mind was massively intelligent. She awed me as she spoke of my role as king and what she heard in Maev's mind. She was especially fascinated by the glowing lights in Maev and I. She knew what it was, because it was a part of her. She loved everything and everyone she met. When she broke the connection, I noticed Maev watching me.

"My gods. Maev, she's brilliant! She's got the mind of an adult already..." I was at a loss for words.

A knock at the doors to our chambers broke me out of my revelling. I went to the doors and opened them. A young vampire was twitching and practically spilled out his message. A mysterious person had arrived carrying the head of Captain McClure.

As Fearas walked into the hold, he used his magic to disguise himself as a vampire. He ordered the Formorii to hide in the waters of the channel. He carried the head of his victim in his right hand. After making himself look frantic, he barged through the doors to the hold and requested and audience with their king. As he paced back and forth, he worked to shield his mind from any invaders. When the king appeared, he nearly ran in fright.

The king was so bright that it threatened to incinerate him then and there. He wasn't a vampire, but he was so full of shadows that the light alone could destroy him. He held his ground as the light engulfed him and he suffered all of this silently. As the King sat himself on the throne, Fearas approached cautiously, testing the wards he had set up against the light.

As I listened to this strangers tale of death and hatred, I felt a cold pall cover me and settle in the pit of my stomach. McClure had been murdered by a druid. Not just any druid, but the most powerful and feared druid, Fearas. Now he was after me, hell bent on avenging his demon friends death. He wanted me and only me, and he was on his way with an army of Formorii.

I stood and motioned for silence. As I thought about my predicament, I ordered my new first commander to put my son, daughter, and wife into the secret tunnels underneath our keep. He rushed off to do so, And I went to prepare for the battle that was supposedly going to come my way.

As I fitted my last piece of armor on, the ancient Guardian of Hope came forward.

"My lord, the scrolls hath spoken once more. You must read them now! It is of the utmost urgency!" He seemed panicky, but I couldn't listen, I had to protect my family and my people.

"I cannot read them now! I must see that my family and our people are protected from the evil demon-courting Fearas. He has come with a Formorii army. I will read them later." With that I drew my sword and bore it to nearly full blaze. The magic engulfed me again as I began to glow. I controlled it this time and headed the armies out to meet our approaching enemy.

Fearas shimmered out of the hall as soon as no one was looking and found the dark child. He used magic to lul the woman to sleep. He needn't worry about the sister. She wouldn't remember her brother. He plucked the child from his mothers arms as he screamed and wailed. Fearas fed on the cries and silenced the child with a spell.

"Alas," he whispered to Kier, "you will help me take over and control the world. you will be the most powerful creature in existence. I will teach you things your father and mother would never let you learn. Child of Darkness, you will be my weapon of destruction, unleashed on my enemies and made powerful by their souls."

With that, Fearas faded out with the child in his arms. He retreated to the forests and ordered the Formorii to attack. He had said an attack would come. And he was not one to go back on his word.

He flew invisibly over the battlefield and watched the King slaughter twenty of the Formorii in a single blast of Light and magic. He flinched and averted his eyes when his wards fell away and the heat of the blast singed his face under the cowl.