A LONG TAIL OF A French braid suspended down to her back. The wind played with the few thin strands of hair on the back of her neck. She curled her fingers in and out, making a fist and opening it again, just to examine the strength she felt now waited beneath the surface.

The sword in the sheath on the back gave Alexandria a sense of more power, but she knew she had enough power lying under her skin.

Blades hidden in her pant legs and one behind her waist gave her more protection than she needed.

Her legs felt strong and robust, her arms firm and graceful.

Energy hummed through her and she took a breath, savoring this lost feeling that was now returned to her.

Never had she seen the world so clearly, in such vivid detail.

She could see the millions of tiny blades of grass in the front lawn and the peeling yellow paint of the two-story house. She had not eaten in the morning, but she didn't need food for energy. She had enough of it in her now.

Alexandria had been cleansed of all the impurities of being a human and now she was a pure, full-blooded witch vampire-hunter from the Aden bloodline.

She balled her fists and marched with courage and bravery to the front door.

She was fully aware that a social was going on, but she could care less. Everything always worked better with an audience.

She was going to break up the party anyway. It was time to show the vampire world that Alexandria Aden was back with a vengeance and ready to unleash all the fury of hell unto them.

Alexandria wasn't even sure why she had allowed her mother to give her backup. She felt prepared to tackle all of them down.

"Do you want backup?" Renee had asked a split second before Alexandria had stepped out the door.

At first, Alexandria was confident that she could handle Ethan—and possibly Eric as well. But Alexandria had never been reckless. "Give me two hours," she allowed. "If I don't return to you by Devil's Hour, send the cavalry."

Alexandria felt positive that she was going to win the battle tonight. It would be her first battle in a long while, but she was certain that she had not lost any of the skills that took her years to develop.

Her slim finger and cut nail reached out for the doorknob. She pressed the relenting button.

During her two years as a human, she had left her nails growing long, preferring the feminine look that she had never received the chance to show off as a hunter.

But a few minutes before she left Renee's house, she had her nails trimmed down to a fitting length for vampire hunters.

A sickly female voice came from the other side of the door. "What do you want?"

"I'm here for the social," Alexandria answered, a smile spreading her lips at the joy of being able to state the phrase for the first time in two years.

"Slide your invitation under the door," the voice ordered.

Invitation? Now this is new, Alexandria mused. They must've upgraded since I've been out as a human. "I'm a friend of Eric's," she said instead. "He told me I didn't need an invitation, that I could just tell you this and you'd let me in."

Alexandria could imagine the figure on the other side. She was shaking her head, although she was becoming filled with doubts. "An invitation is now required," she said. "Didn't you hear about what happened with Lyon Aden?"

Alexandria winced at the sound of her younger sister's name. She knew they were referring to the fact that Ethan had put Lyon into a coma from which she might never recover. That angered Alexandria beyond reason.

"It's a safety procedure now, for all vampires," the voice continued. "You need an invitation to get through the door."

Alexandria's teeth gritted against each other and the knuckles on her fist turned white from clenching them so tightly. "Alright," Alexandria uttered, hoping that she was able to betray the threatening tone that laid beneath the surface of her words. "Here's my invitation. I'm sliding it through the door right now."

Alexandria listened closely, her enhanced hearing being able to detect the body of the female going down onto the ground, waiting for Alexandria to slide the invitation underneath the door.

Alexandria never slid the invitation under the door; instead, she gave her own welcoming notice.

Her foot assaulted the door, planting a solid kick to the center of the hard wood.

The doorframe splintered as it was torn open and the heavy weight of the door made the loudest thud, like the rolling thunder, when it boomed against the ground.

There was a dusty cloud left over from the fall of the door and Alexandria stepped through, knowing that the haze would obscure the social-goers' vision.

Once it cleared up however, Alexandria heard the gasps among the vampires and blood-bonded humans when recognition hit them.

Alexandria's keen indigo-violet eyes scanned the interior of the house, moving past the faces of astonished creatures.

She heard pounding footsteps descending the stairs. In fact, she heard two sets of footsteps pounding down the flight of stairs.

Alexandria's "sixth sense" immediately recognized the aura of the two vampires before she had even seen them.

Ethan was coming down the stairs, wearing a taut black T-shirt and black jeans with a silver-studded belt.

Alexandria thought to herself about how much of a rock star Ethan appeared to be what with his untamed blond hair and bright blue eyes.

The sight of Ethan and the sense of his powerful aura repulsed Alexandria. She had to muster all of her considerable self-control to restrain herself from pulling out her sword and stabbing Ethan in the chest right then and there.

What made it easier to stop herself was the sight of Eric trailing behind his older brother. Eric came down in a long-sleeved dark blue shirt with white buttons running down the middle, slightly opened at the throat and black jeans that matched his brother's. Eric was the opposite of Ethan. He appeared humble and reserved, whereas his brother was extravagant and eccentric.

Eric would fit more as a backup singer than the lead vocalist. That spot was reserved for his more outgoing older brother.

"What the hell is going on down here?" Ethan demanded to know.

Eric's heart felt Alexandria's presence long before his lovely ocean blue eyes ever saw her. He whispered under his breath, "Alexandria." He had thought he would never see her again and yet, here she was. But with a purpose, he knew.

"What happened?" Ethan sought, completely unaware of the fact that Alexandria was standing at the broken threshold.

Alexandria pulled out the blade from her waist and held it up for everyone to see.

"She's a hunter," the whispers came.

"I wonder what she wants," another said.

"To kill someone, no doubt," the other replied.

The light bounced off of Alexandria's blade and it was mirrored onto Eric's face, flashing before his eyes.

It seemed only at that point did Ethan notice Alexandria Aden, the revived vampire hunter.

"Alexandria," Ethan said with a too pleasant tone in his voice that Alexandria despised. "What a surprise."

Eric appeared more concern about Alexandria's arrival. Where Eric was wary, Ethan welcomed the challenge.

"Alexandria, what are you doing here?" Eric inquired, his voice soft.

"Any quarrel with blood incites blood, right?" Alexandria asked, turning his own words against him. "It's my quarrel now."

Ethan sensed the threat that Alexandria was presenting instantly. Both of their feet left the ground and they were hurtling towards each other in mid-air.

Alexandria's blade slashed through the air as they both came down on opposite sides.

"Get out!" Eric shouted to all the social-goers.

The humans, vampires, and blood-bonded humans fled through the broken entrance, scrambling to leave rather than to be killed in the heat of the battle.

Alexandria was now standing on the staircase, where Ethan once was.

They both started running to each other and they locked in a fierce battle of punches and kicks.

Ethan's fist shot out at Alexandria, hoping to get in a good swing to her jaw, but she backed up and she clutched his arm and directed his own hand to his face.

She yanked his arm and twisted it in a circle with a Herculean strength, and Ethan's body slammed onto the ground.

Alexandria released his hand and the heel of her shoe crushed Ethan's nose. She heard the revolting crunch of his cartilage and then the blood gushed like the Niagara Falls, threatening to flood the carpet.

Alexandria raised her blade, her hilt meeting her eye level and as she brought it down to strike Ethan in the heart, Eric chose that perfect time to no longer stand by and watch. He sprung from his location on the staircase and shoved Alexandria down forward, forcing her to release her blade.

Alexandria tumbled down and rolled over several times before she secured her solid footing. She faced Eric now, without her sword.

He had shifted and now he stood before her as the demon he had always masked deep inside.

They had both gone through a metamorphosis over the course of the past few days.

"Are you going to fight me, too?" Eric asked, with a slight hope that Alexandria wouldn't.

But Eric knew Alexandria better than that.

"If I have to get through you to get to Ethan," Alexandria countered, drawing the blade from behind her waist, "so be it."

She made the first move before Eric could. Her blade was reared up high, ready to throw it down to his shoulder to wound him in order to buy her enough time to kill Ethan.

Eric, amazingly, was able to sneak in the first blow. A vigorous fist collided with her jaw, compensating for what Ethan had missed.

Alexandria was jerked to the side, allowing Eric a momentary distraction which he fully took advantage of.

He kicked her in the side, at her ribcage and Alexandria felt certain she heard the crack of one of them.

Words that Eric had once said to her haunted her at that moment: "You haven't been eating enough. I can count every rib."

She laughed to herself bitterly, musing on the irony of the situation. The same man who had said he could count every one of her ribs was the same man who was kicking her ribcage.

A jolt of pain snapped Alexandria to reality.

Eric's inhuman strength added to the force of his foot when he kicked her in the gut. Alexandria was absolutely certain in that moment that she would never be able to bear children.

That one sentimental, human thought allowed Ethan to blindside her.

Ethan roared at her, his fangs extended and his irises sizzling bright red. He came at her and slammed her against the wall, dislocating her right shoulder.

Alexandria cried out in brief agony.

A trail of spittle left Ethan's mouth and moved on Alexandria's face when he snarled at her: "Not as strong as you thought you were, now are you?"

"No," Alexandria replied and her indigo eyes grew darker. "Stronger," she hissed back.

Her hard forehead rammed into Ethan's. The momentum of the collision left Ethan stunned and seeing fuzzy colors.

She broke free and in spite of the fact that she had a dislocated right shoulder, her fist swung out at Ethan's midsection—which she thought to have been steel.

Alexandria switched the blade to her left hand. She was born right-handed, as was her sister Lyon, but they were both taught to use their left hand in case the emergency and the need ever rose. It was good to know how to use both arms with equal strength "just in case".

Bloodlust flickered in the spheres of Alexandria's eyes.

~ ~ ~

She had felt her sister's pain and that had made her suddenly aware of her surroundings. Her eyelids snapped open and she took in all that was around her. She knew immediately that she was resting, safely, in her bedroom, while her sister was out avenging her.

Lyon's vision was blurred at first, but her eyes adjusted to the dim light sickly glowing from her desk.

Her blood connection to her older sister beckoned Lyon to her side. She was not fully recovered, but was strong enough to aid her sister in a task that had been left unfinished for three centuries.

For too long, Lyon thought as she changed into an outfit that would enable her to fight.

A red shirt with black designs and dark blue jeans was appropriate enough for the occasion.

Lyon placed the blades where she would have easy access. Blades tucked into her ankles were almost always necessary for any and all vampire hunters; a blade on the back of her waist and of course, the finishing touch, the sword in the sheath on her back. She wasn't going to try to hide that one.

Knowing very well that her mother would object to her leaving and going alone to fight Ethan and Eric—even if it was to aid her sister—Lyon sneaked out of the window.

Her body contorted to fit through the half-opened slot and she found herself on the shingles of her roof.

Stealthily, she slithered down far enough so she could spring from the roof onto the sprinkled lawn below.

She did this almost without any effort at all.

~ ~ ~

Alexandria could see the bloodlust illuminating Ethan's eyes as well. She took notice of it, but for the most part, ignored it as her blade descended to Ethan's heart.

Ethan's hand, acting quicker than a serpent's poisoned tongue lashing out, caught the blade within an inch of its desired destination.

His foot slammed into Alexandria's gut and shoved her away from him, allowing him time to recover his ground.

He was back on his feet in no time and was ready to pounce on Alexandria. He threw the blade into the floor so that it was embedded up to its hilt. A human would have difficulty removing it.

He leaped like a ferocious lion and had Alexandria pinned to the ground, underneath him.

Ethan now had the upper advantage. His balled fists cracked Alexandria's teeth and a Herculean blow to her jaw had Alexandria spitting out one of her good chewing teeth and blood.

Ethan fastened his pale hands on Alexandria's shoulders and rocked her head back and forth on the floor, hoping to crush her skull.

Moments in Ethan's brutal brain-bashing, Alexandria lifted her head up when Ethan pulled her and rammed her forehead with his.

Her left leg flung out to sidekick him in the ribcage, leaving him one rib short.

Alexandria was on her feet before her mind had even registered the action. She picked up the blade that had been lost, finding the task of yanking it out from the hardwood floor too easy. She laughed in her mind and a grin surfaced on her face.

I love being a vampire hunter.

Alexandria gradually advanced on Ethan with her blade in her left-hand, taking her time, savoring the moment.

Eric saw Alexandria and in his heart, he knew that what she was doing was right. Ethan deserved to die, for all the horrible things he had done. But Eric had done things as horrible as he had, even worse.

Yelling with a bestial roar, Eric charged at Alexandria from behind and his left hand seized her wrist, squeezing it so that Alexandria dropped the blade.

This was the closest, physically, Alexandria had been to Eric in a long while, but she wasn't too satisfied with the reason why they were so close at the moment.

Alexandria didn't have to see Eric's face to know what it looked like: feral crimson eyes and menacing pearl fangs. She sensed the power in his aura and knew that he sensed the same kind of power in hers.

He hissed into her ear. "So we understand each other?"

"Perfectly," Alexandria returned sharply and flung her head back, stunning Eric. She latched onto his neck and swung him onto the floor, back first.

He was momentarily dazed and his vision was far from clarity.

He turned his head from side to side, regaining his impeccable sight.

Alexandria stomped her foot onto his neck, pushed harder, adding pressure to his throat.

Eric saw the coldness in her eyes and felt like he was staring into the face of a stranger. This was Alexandria Aden, the witch vampire-hunter, and not the same woman he loved—still loved.

He watched closely, unable to do anything else, as she gracefully drew the sword from the sheath on her back. Even if she had not performed the movement in two years, she was nevertheless skilled at it, as if she had practiced every day. He supposed two years of being human could not erase seventeen years of witch-hood and training.

The point of Alexandria's sword hung shakily above Eric's heart, telling him that her decision to kill or spare him was still being considered.

Now that she was actually faced with the choice, she found difficulty in making it.

Eric knew that with three simple words he could make the decision for her.

But he would not do it.

He would not manipulate Alexandria into sparing his life and giving him mercy. That was something Alexandria had to do all on her own, without deception or trickery.

Sparing and bestowing him mercy had to be a gift truly given from Alexandria's pure heart. Mercy with guile was as good as love without trust—worthless. Utterly worthless. He would have none of it. He wanted none of it.

Tears seemed to be forming in her eyes, a crystal veil over the profound indigo-violet hues.

With a scornful hiss to herself, Alexandria raised the sword where it bolted down.

With a finality in his soul, Eric declared to himself, I love you, Alexandria.

Eric shut his eyes, unable to face the judgment his true love was giving him. A microsecond went by and Eric found himself wondering why he had not died yet, why he had not felt the sharp stab of Alexandria's blade.

He slowly opened his eyes and found Alexandria standing before him and her sword plunged into the floor, half an inch away from his body.

She had spared him and had done so without him asking her to.

This gift of mercy Eric would accept.

He would have it no other way.

The tears in Alexandria's eyes had dried before they ever touched her skin. She was stronger, emotionally and physically, as a vampire hunter.

She couldn't do it. All along in her heart she knew she would never be able to deliver the final blow to Eric that would end his eternity. But there was a moment in that short-lived second when Eric hadn't been so sure.

It appeared, to all three of them, that it was all over until the familiar war cry of an ignorant vampire hunter entered the house.

Lyon found Eric lying on the ground and a sword embedded halfway up to its hilt next to him. Finding the circumstances perfect, Lyon jerked the sword out and stabbed Eric in his stomach.

I'll deal with him later, Lyon dismissed. I came here for Ethan, that bastard-leech.

The point of the sword was now bloodied as Lyon moved to Ethan, the sword twirling in her right hand.

Ethan stood backed up against the wall on the side of the staircase. Lyon swung the sword at him, a reckless move for a vampire hunter. Ethan ducked and Lyon missed.

From behind her, she heard Alexandria cry out, "Lyon, no!"

But she pretended not to hear her sister.

Lyon swung the sword in the opposite direction, hoping to take Ethan's head off with it. But he had already anticipated her next move and he was ready for it. He squatted and clutched Lyon's legs, sweeping them out from under her.

Lyon obviously lost her footing, but not enough so that she tripped and fell. She recovered more quickly than Ethan had assumed and she sent hard jabs to his midsection.

She attacked him viciously, without forethought.

In defense of his brother, Eric ripped Lyon off of Ethan and growled dangerously, "Nobody hurts my brother . . . Nobody."

Rage, anger, and hatred boiled in Alexandria's veins. She lunged at Eric and they promptly proceeded to attack each other, hoping to rip one another's throat out, caught in the loyalty that bound them both to blood.

Her fist landed squarely on his face and he returned it. They traded blows until they were weary and that would be a long time. They were both preternatural creatures and they could endure for hours, though Alexandria would most likely tire out before Eric would.

Ethan came in between them, landing a firm uppercut to Alexandria's chin that sent her stumbling back to where her sister stood.

"Are you okay?" Lyon asked, genuinely concerned.

"I'm fine," Alexandria told her. "I would've been better if you hadn't come in when you did."

Shocked, Lyon inquired, "What?"

Alexandria's fiery and burning gaze met Lyon. "I had just worked things out with Eric and then you had to come in and ruin the peace we were making."

"Peace can never be made with those leeches," Lyon reminded her.

"I can't believe that," Alexandria told her. "I won't allow myself to."

Somewhere within the walls of the house, Alexandria heard a clock chime. Time had flown by rather quickly when she was fighting. She wondered what time it was now.

With a sudden realization, Alexandria whispered under her breath, "It's Devil's Hour."

That meant that the "backup" Renee was going to send would be coming soon.

Alexandria glared long and hard at Eric and Ethan, both breathing heavily and worn out from the fighting.

It was true that vampires and hunters alike could endure long fights, but even vampires became exhausted if they didn't have the proper energy to fuel them.

And from the looks of it, Alexandria could tell that Ethan hadn't fed just yet.

That was what the social was for.

He needed to feed. Too lazy to go out hunting, he had the food come right to him. However, Alexandria had interrupted him and Ethan had not received the opportunity to dine yet.

Now that she was a witch vampire-hunter again, Alexandria could sense the presence of many beings from a long distance away. She felt the powerful auras of Alectra, Leda, Candace, Shannah, and her own mother, Renee.

They were coming this way.

Alexandria stared long and hard at Ethan and Eric, the two vampire siblings. Ethan was paler than usual. Sweat made his face a blinding sight.

Investigating him, Alexandria thought Ethan looked more like an anemic that had lost too much blood than a vampire that needed blood.

Ethan was near fainting. He breathed heavily, his rasped and short breaths coming out in hard gasps.

I must have worn him down, Alexandria thought proudly with a grin spreading to her lips. She terminated the smile before it ever spread. A nagging part of her—the humanity still left within—wagged a finger at her, telling her she should be ashamed, reminding her that she should have compassion in times of cruelty.

Alexandria's dry mouth formed words she believed were impossible for her to ever say.


Ethan's half-closed eyes glared at her and Eric was astonished by her simple word.

"What?" Lyon exclaimed, putting verbally what was in all their minds.

"Leave, now," Alexandria told them. "And don't ever come back here."

Alexandria was starting to rise from the floor. Lyon helped her stand up, but once Alexandria's feet were firmly on the ground, she needed no support.

"Alex, what are you saying? We can't just let them go," Lyon insisted and Alexandria knew she was right.

Even then, Alexandria still shook her head. "The Matriarchs are coming. You can sense them, Eric, I know you can. They want your blood too now that they know your little secret."

Eric's deep blue eyes gazed at the opening where the door had once stood. Concern clouded the spheres of his eyes.

"Alexandria . . ." Lyon began.

"Shut up, Lyon," Alexandria silenced.

Lyon was shocked; nevertheless she went quiet.

Alexandria continued, her voice strong and confident, with a solider vocal note than ever before. "I am giving you one last opportunity. Leave now. Take your brother and go wherever you have to, but take my word on this: if I ever see any one of you again, consider yourselves ashes."

Eric knew in his heart, had known it all along, that Alexandria meant it. If he ever had the misfortune of stumbling upon her again, he knew that he would never live to see another century.

In spite of all that, though, Eric could not leave.

He could not find the strength in his limbs to move.

All four of them exchanged glances, the future suddenly as unclear as shadows and their fates wavering and unraveling in the thread of life.

~ ~ ~

MATRIARCH SPIRAL CRACKED HER KNUCKLES, getting the juices flowing in her hands. Her eager smile was the spitting image of her daughter's own cunning smile.

Alectra led the way to the house.

Within a twenty feet distance they noticed the missing door.

Alectra halted, pivoted, paused, and addressed the four matriarchs from the four superior bloodlines.

"Our mission is clear and well understood, correct?"

Because it would be insolent to just nod their heads, the Matriarchs also responded, "Yes, Matriarch Rath."

"We are to enter the house, aid the vampire hunters, and obliterate the two vampire brothers, Ethan and Eric," Alectra declared. "Should there be any other vampire or even a blood-bonded human, permission is granted to eradicate them as well. But remember, Matriarchs, our most important goal is Ethan and Eric."

"Yes, Matriarch Rath," everyone agreed.

"Excellent," Alectra chirped. "On my lead."

Alectra darted around and headed for the opening in the front of the house. The rest of the Matriarchs marched behind her, but with silent feet.

Within three feet away, the Matriarchs waited anxiously for Alectra's cue. Once given, they charged into the house, their footsteps becoming the raging sound of a stampede.

Alectra bolted through first and the Matriarchs followed immediately after her.

At that moment, however, Alectra stopped dead in her tracks and her gaze swept her surroundings.

It was utterly empty until she saw—and felt—the presence of two young vampire hunters sitting on the staircase, looking like they had been through the worst fight of their lives.

In other words, both Lyon and Alexandria looked like hell.

Renee rushed to the side of her two daughters. "What happened?" she asked, more concerned for the health of her daughters than for the vampires that weren't there. "Are you okay?" Renee examined Lyon's face and arms.

"Mother," Lyon said as if she were embarrassed to have her mother fondling her and checking for injuries.

"Where are Ethan and Eric?" Leda questioned.

Alexandria's cold and unresponsive face stared at Leda. Alexandria's indigo-violet eyes were now tinged with apathy, save for the spark of hatred when she saw the Matriarch Spiral. "Gone," Alexandria announced.

"Gone?" Alectra repeated. "You killed them?"

Alexandria's voice was colder than the icebergs of the Arctic. "They escaped," she told them.

Leda was the most disappointed. She had wanted a good slaying before bed.

Alectra faced the disappointment quickly. Alexandria was just not the same vampire hunter as before. Alectra knew that it was because she had spent too much time as a human.

"Rise now, Alexandria Aden," Alectra ordered.

Alexandria rose slowly, her eyes never leaving the Matriarch. Now, Alexandria's indifferent behavior became more concerned with what Alectra would now say and do to her.

"Temporary powers were granted to you so that you could defeat two vampires—Ethan and Eric of 1758. And you have failed."

As if I didn't already know that, Alexandria snapped, wanting to voice her thought out loud but knowing better than to.

"Therefore, it is by the Power of the Matriarchs, that we shall once again cast you out from the Aden bloodline and banish all your associations with the witch vampire-hunter society," Alectra went on.

Alexandria waited for the six words she knew were coming.

And certainly enough, they came.

"You are dismissed from your duty."

Alexandria gravely pounded down the three steps of the staircase. She felt someone tug her arm and she turned around to find Lyon gazing at her tenderly.

"May the Goddess be with you," Lyon wished.

Alexandria couldn't say anything in return. All she could do was smile kindly at her sister. She patted Lyon's hand and then descended the staircase.

The crowded Matriarchs cleared a pathway for her.

This was different from last time.

Last time, Alexandria had stumbled and faltered out of the house. She could hardly stand. And even though history repeats itself, it never does so in the same way.

As Alexandria walked bravely out of the house, she thought, At least this time I can walk out with honor and dignity.

~ ~ ~

Lyon could not believe that this was the second time she had to see her sister—her own flesh and blood—turn her back on her and walk out.

Every fiber in Lyon's being screamed for her to do something.

She wanted to run and latch onto Alexandria's arm, refusing to release her until one of the Matriarchs pried her off or they allowed Alexandria back in as a witch vampire-hunter.

But Lyon was maturing.

She was growing up.

There was the possibility that Alexandria didn't want to be a witch vampire-hunter anymore, that she would rather stay human than be a witch with her family.

Lyon was learning, learning to think of others as well.

If only Alexandria could see me now, Lyon thought almost proudly.

~ ~ ~

Alexandria could already feel her powers draining from her. She never was quite clear on the definition of "temporary" seen through a vampire hunter's perspective, but she knew that "temporary" was soon.

Her vision was becoming hazy and unclear, cloudy as it was when she first became human. But this time it was not so abrupt. This time, not only was she anticipating it, she was prepared for it.

She casually opened the door to her apartment, as if this was just every other "normal" day. None of the events that took place had just happened.

Now that Ethan and Eric were truly gone, Alexandria wanted to move on. She wanted to let go all that was the past and embrace the future, but she wasn't sure the past would let her go—or what was in the future waiting her.

Twice, her destiny had drastically changed.

Now the cliched question popped into her mind, Where do I go from here?

Alexandria had a difficult time imagining what her ultimate fate would be. Was there even such a thing as destiny? Alexandria didn't think so.

Fatigued from the battle, Alexandria sluggishly paced through the house as if she was in a languid trance. She was going through the motions without feeling any of it, as if she was only watching herself from the sidelines.

She had had enough of life.

Alexandria removed the blades she had secured and then the sword came last. She gripped it in her hand just a little bit longer, relishing in the feel of it, in the strength that still trembled in her hand when she touched the hilt. The light played off the sword's blade.

Taking in a deep breath, Alexandria set the sword down on the table in the kitchen. A second after the lying down of the sword, Alexandria felt an uncontrollable parting of her lips.

Her hand slapped over her mouth to cover her yawn. Her eyelids were heavier than lead. She remembered that when she had first become human and had lost all of her power, this was the same way that she felt: tired and sleepy.

The yawn only made her realize it more.

Alexandria had been able to sense the shimmering auras of dozens of vampires on her way back to the apartment, but within fifty yards of her apartment, the auras began to fade from Alexandria's perception.

She felt more prepared to tackle on the loss of her powers, knowing that this had happened before.

History does have a tendency to repeat itself, she chucked softly to herself with her hand on the doorknob to her bedroom.

With her eyes gazing on the carpet, Alexandria opened the door. When she looked up, she was stunned to see Ethan sleeping peacefully on the bed and Eric sitting on a chair beside him, carefully watching over his older brother and protecting him.

Eric's hands were clasped and he held them close to his forehead. For a second, it appeared to Alexandria as if Eric was praying.

At the completion of that thought, Eric's face lifted to look up into hers.

A rush of emotions overwhelmed Alexandria.

This was the same vampire she had loved for two years and still did. She saw the depth in his blue eyes and the tenderness behind his calm demeanor. She had loved him and accepted all the flaws that came with him. But the one flaw she had always failed to take into account—or at least did a terribly excellent job of ignoring—was the simple truth that Eric was a vampire and a killer by nature, the very same thing that Alexandria opposed because she was brought up a certain way: the way of the vampire hunter.

Alexandria remembered the declaration she had made back at the house on Wild Horse Drive to them.

She recalled it silently. If I ever see any one of you again, consider yourselves ashes.

Eric heard her. "We won't be staying here for long," Eric informed her. "Ethan was too weak to move so we needed a quick place to stay for a few minutes. We'll be gone before you even know it. You'll hardly even notice."

Alexandria heard the mocking nature of Eric's last words. After all that had happened, nothing would ever be the same again—could ever be the same again.

Knowing that it would be best to leave now and come back a little bit later after Ethan and Eric left, Alexandria whirled around on the heel of her feet, almost losing her balance from her briskness.

She was losing her momentum to human coordination.

Or uncoordination, I should say, Alexandria quipped. "I'm going out for a walk," she offered instead. "I'll be back in an hour or so."

Her hand was reaching for the doorknob and three inches away when she heard Eric's painfully beautiful voice behind her.

"When you come back, I'll be gone. Both of us. We'll never come back here again . . ."

Alexandria cocked her head sideways and then had the sudden urge to turn her body fully around to face Eric. She did so. "Can I ask you a question?"

Eric's nod could have been barely perceived at all.

"Why did you choose Ethan over me?" It was a question she had been dying to ask and had been burning to know.

Her words hung in the air between them, this vast expanse of time and space. There was no intensity in the tone she used, but it was evident in the meaning.

Eric looked away and relied on another man's wisdom to aid him. "Blood is thicker than water, Alexandria."

"And was that all I was to you, Eric? Just water? Well love is stronger and thicker than any kind of blood," Alexandria snapped back at him. She had not mean to do so, but necessary words always had a way of escaping mouths, even if you tried to curb your impulse.

"That may be so in some cases," Eric replied softly, his voice varying greatly from Alexandria's. "But not in this one."

That was all she wanted to know.

Alexandria turned to the door.

"Alexandria, I—"

Her hand shot up. She knew what he was going to say and she didn't want him to say it.

Slightly turning her head to the side so he could see the profile of her heartbroken face, Alexandria softly told him, "Don't say anything. It just makes it harder and I don't want it to be any harder than it already is." She paused, searching for the right words and then finally finding them. "I just want it to be easier."

Eric lowered his head in a show of understanding.

Alexandria opened the door and this time, Eric said nothing to make her stay or hold her back.

~ ~ ~

AN HOUR AND A HALF before sunrise, Alexandria made her way back to her apartment.

She had wandered alone the whole entire time, seeking comfort in simple things and finding no solace.

She was beyond exhausted. Her body needed rest like never before. At this point, Alexandria had lost all of her preternatural abilities and skills.

Her eyes no longer saw the world the same way as before. Her senses had become dull.

Alexandria hand found the door and turned the knob. She crossed the threshold and closed the door behind her.

Sadness had rendered her its prisoner, but she had yet to shed a tear.

Alexandria peeled off her leather jacket and tossed it recklessly on the floor. She was not in the mood to do housekeeping.

Her indigo-violet eyes fell to the door to her bedroom. It was slightly opened, two or three inches from the doorframe. She approached it with caution, half expecting to see Ethan and Eric still there and half expecting to see no one.

What she saw was the latter.

Alexandria's gaze swept around the bedroom. The first thing she noticed, which was hard not to, was the opened closet.

Both doors opened to reveal what was now inside the closet.

Only Alexandria's clothes remained.

Eric's half of the closet was empty. He had taken his entire wardrobe with him, which granted was not much anyway. It was sufficient for him, but not overdone.

Upon the realization that his attire was gone, Alexandria felt the threatening sting of tears.

Her eyes found their way to the second things she noticed in the room.

The drawers of the nightstand were opened and items had been removed. Eric had taken practically everything he owned and left Alexandria her own things.

Tears misted her eyes. A reflection of light was mirrored into the welling of tears inside her eyelids.

The last thing she noticed was the bed.

The bed was utterly empty and appeared untouched. There were no wrinkles or the smallest trace of a disturbance to the fabric and the sheets.

It was almost as if Eric and Ethan had never been there, that none of this had ever happened and Alexandria would wake from a terrible nightmare and then vent out her anger from the dream by crashing a social the following night.

But it had happened.

It had definitely happened.

Alexandria examined the unperturbed bed closely. There was a white piece of paper folded in half laying on the smooth surface of the sheets. Alexandria walked over to the bed and sat down. She picked up the paper beside her and promptly began to read it.

Eric had left it for her. He had written a short letter for her:

It simply stated: "A vampire's life is death. Love is beyond it."

Alexandria whispered the words under her breath, not quite understanding the true meaning of the words, but able to see what he meant.

Tears spilled silently down onto her cheeks.

Something made Alexandria look up at the opened door and she saw Lyon standing there.

She hadn't seen her earlier, but she knew that Lyon couldn't have been there for that long.

Lyon's gaze was full of sympathy and compassion, sorrow and guilt. Alexandria saw these emotions carved onto Lyon's young face.

Lyon raised her head to see swift tears falling from Alexandria's indigo-violet eyes to her cheeks. Unable to bear the pain of seeing her sister cry, Lyon pivoted and darted out of the bedroom and slammed the door behind her.

Lyon admitted she was a coward in that way. She had not the ability to cope with another individual's pain, especially her own sister. She could only handle her own pain, but even then she didn't do so well on the solitary coping of pain and loss and sadness.

Lyon's first intention was to flee from the apartment, but a part of her made her stay with her back against the door.

She heard the sound of Alexandria's woeful sobs.

That alone was enough to make her leave.

Lyon scurried out of the apartment and closed the door behind her. She ran fast, hoping to put all of it behind her. But she knew that she could never run fast enough to escape it all.

~ ~ ~

"The winter chilled my bone / Showed me the long way home / Stilled the flower too soon / The trembling vines began to quiver / When the moon reflected silver."

~ ~ ~

Alexandria broke down in the silence. Without her sister around, she was free to shed tears without worrying about her sister.

She placed her hands over her mouth, quieting herself down although there was no reason to.

She clutched the letter as if it was life support.

It was the only tangible piece of him that he had left behind.

Alexandria crawled onto the bed and rested her head on his pillow, trying to smell his scent but unable to with the clogging of her nasal passageway from crying.

Out of the corner of her eye, she could clearly see the black rose in a new vase. But she supposed she had no reason to keep it any longer.

With only her tears to keep her company, Alexandria cried herself to sleep—something she was doing all too often these days.

~ ~ ~

"Now, the sunlit floor where angels used to dance / Has grown too dark / Where once it was as bright as time / It can no longer be seen."

~ ~ ~

The door opened for her, even though she was yards away, standing alone in the middle of a deserted road.

The bus would take her somewhere. It didn't matter where, just away from all the pain of her past.

Alexandria moved to the bus, waiting for her with its massive tires and quiet people. But before she could reach the door, she heard her name like the whisper of a wind call out for her.

A tiny light of hope lit up. She slowly turned her head, afraid that if she moved too quickly, he would vanish like Eurydice.

Was it too much to hope for?

"Alexandria . . ."

Her eyes looked out into the open road and she saw him, standing there, with his long-sleeved blue shirt.

Eric had come back.

Alexandria's heart was overcome with glee.

Her body sprang into action before her mind had even registered the action.

Contentment exploded and she ran into his embrace.

He opened his arms wide for her and she fit perfectly within the circle of them, sensing a comfort there, knowing that she belonged with him in the end.

"I love you so much, Eric," she confessed. "I'll always love you."

"Love is immortal," Eric said, lowering his head to kiss her—

Alexandria's eyelids flicked open.

The abruptness of her waking disorientated her.

For an ephemeral moment, Alexandria was convinced that it had actually happened, but when reality latched onto her and swung her across the room, she realized it had all been but a dream. A deceitful, merciless little illusion.

~ ~ ~

"The snow is tainted / And I'm shaken violently inside / By this tempest's storm / But I cannot find the tears to cry / To shed what I've forlorn."

~ ~ ~

The Night Viper was darker, more gothic and depressed than ever tonight. It seemed to mirror Alexandria's mood, so she returned to it, inadvertently stumbling upon an atmosphere as grave as she.

The haunting vocal of a melancholic and miserable lead singer against the background of eerie guitar riffs and the steady, pulsating beat of the drums provided a depressing and dispirited melody.

The band was known as The Lost Souls and they played music in the alternative/rock genre. They were composed of all females: a lead singer, two guitarists, and a drummer. They were a local band from Sundry and were trying hard to make it into the entertainment business.

Their specialties were the songs that were slowed down to make a more dramatic and sorrowful tone, such as the one that played somberly from the speakers throughout the Night Viper.

It was a song they proudly called "Oh, Sweet Release".

No matter what their song was, the lyrics were always powerful and moving. They were quite popular in Sundry and Alexandria had been a fan of them since last year, the year that they introduced themselves into the local music scene and Cimmerian, especially the Night Viper, had taken special interest in The Lost Souls.

Requests for their songs took up the majority of the music they played within the walls of the Night Viper.

Alexandria liked their music, liked the broken-hearted tune of "Oh, Sweet Release".

She sat at one of the small circular tables on the second level. Bodies swayed hypnotically on the first floor, but she paid no attention to them. They were merely in the background.

Ghostly light and pale shades danced across the Night Viper. Humans, vampires, and Wiccans all molded into the music, became one with the lyrics, and followed the almost vampiric sound of the rhythm.

Alexandria's dejected spirit matched the beautiful words and the notes of the song. She sat with her right elbow propped up onto the surface of the table and her right palm cradling her cheek.

But Alexandria did not sit alone.

Across from her was Kristoff, the mirror image of Alexandria with his right elbow—Alexandria's left—on the table and his hand touching the side of his face.

He had yet to see her smile. She had been in the Night Viper for about an hour or so.

The sun would be rising soon and Kristoff knew that Meredith would be waiting for him. But Alexandria was one of his few rare human companions and he cared a great deal for her. At the moment, he knew that Alexandria needed comfort and he felt helpless because he couldn't quite give it to her.

The only thing he could do was be there for her, be a true friend to her.

Meredith would understand.

~ ~ ~

"The sunlight burns my skin / Yet I would follow you into the light of day / I've wandered where you have been / And for you I kept my demon at bay."

~ ~ ~

The afternoon sun was a welcoming sight for Alexandria. She felt like she had been in the cold, dark shadows for too long.

She had journeyed a long way from Cimmerian to the east edge of Sundry.

She had carried two black duffel bags of her valuables with her and she had walked by herself the entire way—an estimated travel of twenty-five to thirty miles.

It had taken up most of her morning.

After she left the Night Viper, she went back to the apartment to pack up her things. It took her half an hour to do so and then she was off to Sundry.

The place was empty, nothing except for a handful of withering bushes in a desert-like location. There was a road of smooth dirt and she stood on the edge of it. There were wooden poles and electric lines bordering the two sides of the road.

This was the same place she had dreamt about earlier in the morning.

Her shoulders ached from the weight she carried. She set her duffel bags onto the ground and waited for the bus to come. She saw it emerging from a rising hill.

Uncertainty filled her then.

What am I doing?

She had asked herself the same question hundreds of times before but never was there an answer. She didn't belong anywhere with anyone as anybody in particular, not as a vampire hunter and not as a human.

She was alone.

Her destiny was to be alone.

She was foolish to think differently.

The bus began to stop.

The back of the bus was in front of Alexandria. She lifted the bags and placed the straps over her shoulders and then she was heading towards the door.

Just like in her dream, Alexandria heard her name, a whisper carried out in the wind. She gradually turned around, murmuring under her breath, "Eric . . .?"

A gentle breeze swept a cloud of dust and formed a small sphere that rolled across the deserted road.

There was no one.

She attempted to mask her disappointment and failed in doing so.

Alexandria turned toward the waiting bus and stood in front of the door, waiting to hear the swish sound that acknowledged her ability to enter.

The sound came, the door opened, and Alexandria stepped inside.

The faces of the people inside the bus never even looked up once.

Alexandria kept her eyes down for most of the time and only looked up infrequently while hunting for an empty seat. She found one on the driver's side isle, four seats in front of the back of the bus.

It was totally empty.

She walked over to the vacant seat and tossed her two bags up into the slots above her and she took a seat by the window and made herself as comfortable as the bus would allow.

The bus door had closed and now the bus started moving.

Alexandria stared out of her window, at the clear, spotless blue sky and felt the warmth of the powerful sun through her closed window. She gazed at her own reflection on the mirror and watched as the desert seemed to stretch endlessly onto the brink of forever.

The world had never been so empty and meaningless to her, and at the same time, so vast and huge and filled with doubt.

Security and comfort were things of the past.

Her world had been destroyed twice and still twice wasn't enough.

This time around, however, she decided to leave her old world to brave a brand new one that she had never known before.

Her mind drifted on loose thoughts and she found herself concentrating especially hard on Eric's last words to her.

A vampire's life is death. Love is beyond it.

And what was beyond the tall walls of Alexandria's beloved home?

Would she be strong enough to face any perils ahead by herself?

There would be no one to guide her anymore.

She was leaving everything she had ever known behind: her family, her love, and the life she had established.

What else was there left for her in the world?

Alexandria supposed she would find out soon enough.

~ ~ ~

"Sorrow keeps me ungraceful / As I stumble towards your heaven / Oh, sweet release / Love will set us free."

~ ~ ~