Lovey smiled with warmth as she looked up from the garden her tender hands repaired.
“How’s it going, my beautiful?” Reason took a seat on their bench.
She took a seat next to him, holding onto his hand and laying her cheek upon his shoulder. She let him know, “it’s not beyond repair.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” his voice held his smile.
“Reason, Lovey!” young voices called out to them.
Lovey lifted her head. Three young souls stood at the other side of their little picket fence.
“Come on in,” Lovey waved the kids inside their yard.
Marie, along with her two brothers, Scott and Jacob, walked over. In Marie’s hands rested a care basket.
With patience, Reason questioned them, “again, you three? Your parents will go without at this rate.”
“Nonsense,” Jacob shrugged. “We have plenty! And it’s thanks to you that the town and Marie still stand.”
“It’s me that brought Zene and Nevetes in,” Reason pointed out.
But Scott cut him short, “it’s a way of life we as a town choose to embrace long ago. We always knew something bad could happen.”
Marie finished the thought, “but the cost is too high if we do nothing at all. You couldn’t know Nevetes would go bad like that.”
“Bad? Is that how you see it?” Lovey sounded sad.
“He killed those people like it didn’t even matter to him. That’s evil!” Jacob’s view was shared by his siblings.
But Lovey shook her head, “he killed, it’s true. But you’re judging him based upon the culture that you grew up in.”
“Shouldn’t we?” Scott challenged. “Killing is bad.”
“It is,” Lovey acknowledged. “And I don’t want you to think I condone it. What I ask you to consider are those that came looking for Nevetes.”
“Why would that matter?” Jacob shook his head for he couldn’t understand.
“Those that came searching; they threw their weight around, they willfully destroyed property, they threatened and intimidated. They took Reason’s eye and his arm. It wouldn’t have mattered to them if they’d taken his life. A few may even have enjoyed it.”
“Well yah, they were bad people,” Jacob conceded with an uncertain shrug.
“Bad people who wanted to take Nevetes back,” Lovey softly pointed out.
“Oh!” the three kids said as one.
Reason continued on, “those that came hurt all of us. What did you see when Nevetes arrived?”
“The soldiers tried to attack him. Only they died,” Marie breathed the words.
“But he was coming for you,” Scott reminded her.
But Marie shook her head, “I don’t think he was. He sensed my power, and he figured out what I was. But I think my power’s why he noticed me at all. And all it took was Lovey pointing out that I’m no threat. He just left after that.”
“But he came after you too, didn’t he?” Jacob asked Reason.
Slowly, Reason moved his head in negation, “in his way, he was just checking on me. I think what he wanted to know was if we’d keep on helping others like him and Zene.”
“What did you tell him?” Marie dared to know.
Reason smiled at the memory, “I said that we had as much as those like him needed.”
Blood dripped heavily from the tips of his fingers. The bodies of two soldiers lay at Nevetes’ feet. The claws of his left hand were buried deep into the fabric of a soldier’s tunic. A fourth lay gravely wounded several body lengths away.
The one in his grasp pled for his miserable life, “p-please! I didn’t do anything!”
Darkness overtook his eyes as he leaned in. The lowest growl was heard from his throat.
“I’ll tell you anything. I-I-I’ll do anything you want. Please, please don’t kill me!” The soldier’s eyes moved to the ground where his fallen comrades lay, their throats torn clear out.
“Vania,” he finally uttered the single word without releasing his clenched teeth.
“Vania,” the whispered word fell to the ground. “The general is out in the field.”
Dark was the growl that brought Nevetes’ fangs further out. He wanted more than that.
The soldier shook, “I don’t know where! We weren’t told. But there’s a garrison outpost near the town up the road. There’s a tavern there. Lots of soldiers. I’m sure someone there knows more.”
His black eyes stared through the soldier.
“Please,” he begged pathetically, “I’ve told you all I know. Please don’t kill me.”
Nevetes’ claws grew as he lifted them.
“Please!” tears fell.
And his claws bore deep into the chest of the man. Fear and pain froze to the features of the face as he died. The blood was lost to the darkness of the night as he shook it clean. The body of the soldier was heavy as it hit the ground.
“Bastard,” the wounded soldier spat up the word.
She was a tough one, for a human. Nevetes hunched down next to her. Death was a fate she was awaiting. And it would come. But not in this moment. He stared coldly upon her, “the key.”
She glared. But after only a moment, she pulled the item from a pouch at her side. The iron key fell heavily in the dirt. Nevetes picked it up. He moved away, turning his back on the soldier. She shouted to the best of her ability, “kill me, dammit!”
He ignored. The key flipped through the air and he caught it again easily. With a sideways toss it left his possession. Small hands held in heavy chains caught it. Large, fearful eyes had been watching him. Two young boys and a young girl in simple off-white clothing, held together by heavy chains. Bruises were heavy upon their young faces and visible upon their arms. The key would release them.
“Please,” a young male voice pled, “take us with you, sir.”
He stopped, his head turning minutely in their direction. Fear of what he was had them cowering. With these words, he moved away, “figure out your own fate, if you have the courage to try.”
The five of them sat in the boy’s room found within the dorm. The room was filled with clutter and unmade beds that Sammy was busy straightening. Bryn hurried about trying to help. Chad was relaxed upon the desk chair, his feet propped up on the desk and his head leaning backwards over the chair back. Zene sat upon the floor, Nevetes’ things resting next to her. Her arms were straight and rigid, her fingers holding onto her ankles. She was looking crossly upon Bryn as he moved about.
He shook his head as he tucked some clothes into a drawer, “Zene, no! This is dangerous. This town is filled with very bad people.”
“Then we need to find Reis’ sister before those bad people do,” she was firm.
“It’s not that simple. Something could happen to you.”
“Like what happened with Krista?” her question deflated his argument.
“That’s cheating,” Bryn griped. He turned to face her. His hands imploring for her understanding.
“We’re helping,” it was a statement that wouldn’t be argued with.
And yet, Bryn seemed desperate to, “but what about Nevetes?”
“I’ll find him,” her shrug pushed at the ends of her hair, catching tiny rays of sunshine within the strands. “But right now, Reis’ sister needs help.”
“Is she serious?” Reis asked. “Are you serious?”
Reis had been pacing the room. He was ready to be out there again searching.
“Of course,” she turned her face to Reis. “You believe your sister is in trouble, so we should do something.”
“Maybe we should tell the guard?” Sammy hesitated to put the suggestion out. She was at one of the beds, pulling at the sheets to straighten them.
A puff of air moved past Chad’s lips, “pfft, the guard won’t do anything.”
“There’s guards here?” Worry brought Zene’s lightly clenched fist to her chin.
“Well, yah,” Chad looked at her from his strange vantage point.
She looked to the side, glancing to a recent past she didn’t want to go back to.
Unaware of this, Bryn continued on, “this is not a good idea without Nevetes…”
The words snapped Zene back to the moment. She lifted her head and dropped her shoulders, “maybe I’m not as smart as he is, but he’s not here. And I don’t see anyone else willing to help.”
“She’s got a point. The guard just turns a blind eye to girls going missing,” Chad finally sat upright in the chair. “No one else is going to look for Krista.”
“She’s my sister, Bryn,” Reis requested his help.
“But when Nevetes finds out,” Bryn still hesitated.
Zene stood up, her arms straight at her side with fists tight. “He left me. So, he’s not half so worried about me as you clearly are about him. I am going to help. So you can come with us, or you can leave me too, but I am helping. Am I clear?”
“Clear,” he raised his hands in submission.
“Good,” she nodded decisively. Her voice turned soft once again, “so, what do we do?”
Bryn’s head dropped with the sigh escaping his lips. Under his breath he muttered, “Nevetes is going to rip my still-beating heart out of my chest for this… What do we know about people being taken? Other then that it happens on Market Street.”
“Nothing,” Chad held an annoyed look. “Literally, we don’t talk about it.”
“Someone’s got to,” Reis refused to write his sister off. “Someone knows something.”
“Lugon,” Zene uttered the name from behind a finger that tapped her lips.
“What?” several voices asked.
“That guy that was looking for me when I found you,” she was alight with the thought that rushed to get out, “he told the other man that name and it scared him.”
The others shared a confused look. Bryn voiced that confusion, “we don’t understand.”
She did her best to explain, “when I came here, there was some guy that wouldn’t let me in. When Conor came, he said that name and we got into the town. It didn’t make any sense to me then.”
“It doesn’t make any sense now,” Reis shrugged. Chad and Sammy nodded agreement.
Zene tucked her hair behind her ear as she offered something, “at the prison the guards always said that they were just following the general’s orders, though they liked doing what they did. But then too at the tower, the guard there didn’t do anything without General Vania’s orders. Maybe Lugon is like the general here? Telling others to take people.”
“At the what and the where?” Chad’s eyes had gone round!
“Who’s General Vania?” Sammy took a seat at the edge of Bryn’s bed.
“Another time,” Bryn physically shook off the issue of Zene’s past. “I think Zene’s onto something. Here at the school, the teachers follow the direction of the headmaster. And the class monitor reports to the Student Council.”
“Thanks for the recap, Bryn,” Reis wasn’t following. He folded his arms across his chest showing his impatience.
“Follow along,” Bryn waved them along the hypothetical path. “An organization is built of many people working towards the same goal. The military, the schools, even the guard here in town. They all have a structure. So, if the guard here doesn’t help…”
Reis caught on, “it’s because someone higher up in their ranks is telling them not too! You’re a genius, Zene!”
“I’m sorry,” she apologized.
“No, Zene,” Bryn smiled, “it’s a compliment. We need to go find someone in the guard that’s willing to talk. It’s our best shot right now.”
“The guard?” fear pulled her arms in tight to her body.
“It’s okay,” Bryn touched her shoulder. Sympathy lit his gaze, “you, Sammy, and Chad will stay here in the dorm. Reis and I will head to the guard posts.”
“But will you be okay? I’m supposed to protect you too,” Zene took his hand in worry.
“We’ll be safe. We’re just asking around. Promise,” he patted her hand.
“Okay,” she conceded, doing her best to bring up a smile.
Chad seemed quite pleased, and the way his eyes wandered over her person hinted at why.
“Sister, Chad,” Bryn snapped!
“Why don’t guys ever look at me like that?” Sammy whined.
Bryn rolled his eyes. Then he took Sammy’s hand so that she was focused upon him, “because you’re better than guys like that.”
Sammy blushed with pleasure!
Bryn continued, “Sammy, I need you to look after Zene. Don’t leave her alone for a single moment, okay? Can you do that for me?”
She nodded with a bright smile and conviction in her tone, “you got it!”
“Thanks Sammy,” Bryn let go of her hand. To Zene he promised, “we’ll be as quick as we can.”
Reis was already moving, forcing Bryn to hustle. She watched the two of them disappear out the door. A sigh escaped her lips.
“Do you think we have a chance of this working?” Reis asked as they ran out the school doors.
“No idea,” Bryn shook his head. “But we gotta try.”
“Thanks man,” Reis was looking ahead. Was it the stress of the moment or just the wind that brought tears to the corner of his eyes?
“We’ll find her,” Bryn made them both the promise.
They moved through the crowds of the street as fast as their feet would carry them. The streets were busy with people, which made it more difficult. But the boys were determined.
As they reconnected at the far end of a large group, Reis looked over at Bryn, “so, how much do you know about Zene?”
Bryn looked sidelong, worry touching his expression, “she’s a good person.”
“Well, no doubt,” Reis said with ease. “But she talked about a prison, man. And some general guy.”
Bryn’s head shook, “I don’t know. She talked a little about a sister once, but that’s all. When I met her, she was already travelling with Nevetes. And he wasn’t exactly willing to let her talk to me about the two of them.”
“He’s controlling then?” Reis looked concerned.
“Yah,” Bryn breathed the word. “But, it’s not like she really listens. Zene does what she wants.”
“Guys like that, when they aren’t obeyed, they get abusive,” Reis looked angry. It caught Bryn’s worried eye. Together, they turned up a street.
“I don’t think he’s like that,” sweat dripped down the side of his face.
“You’re scared of him,” Reis pointed out. He pulled up short at the next corner to give them both a chance to breathe.
“Yah but,” Bryn placed his hands on his knees to hold himself upright, “he also saved me, and he knows the truth about me. It doesn’t bother him. I don’t think I’m being fair in how I’m portraying him. It’s just kinda complicated.”
“Do you think he’s good for her?”
Bryn looked up at his friend. One shoulder moved in a shrug, “I don’t know. But she’s good for him.”
“She’d be good for anyone,” was the reply that Bryn wouldn’t argue with. Reis slapped him on the shoulder, “come on, just a few more blocks.”
Both boys picked themselves up, and they were off running through the crowds once again.
A dark figure in a dark corner hiding within the hood that protected his identity. The mug of ale before him untouched. It deterred the bar staff from approaching. His countenance kept the others away. Music floated out from the group of humans off to the side. They created ambiance that the humans enjoyed. And she did too. A young woman in a tight, lowcut dress. As she moved about collecting empty plates and mugs, she sang to the music. The words flowed as though she knew the song.
“Sheesh,” one of the men at the neighboring table commented to his buddies. “You’d think someone that hot would have a better voice.”
“Well, women should be seen not heard,” another remarked eliciting laughs from the others.
Nevetes felt his fangs emerge from behind his snarl.
“They ain’t worth it,” a genial figure moved up to his table. Boldly, he claimed a seat.
Nevetes was handed a mug. He could smell the blood from where he sat. There was some in the stranger’s mug too. He watched the man drink deeply.
The man continued to speak. He nodded at the girl, “you into humans, or just hungry?”
His cold expression revealed nothing.
“Hey, not judging,” the man raised his hands in defence. With a smile he said, “can see enough of the story here to know you’re here by choice. That’s why I came over. Too few of us making our own choices.”
His new annoyance rolled the sleeve of his right arm up until a branding was revealed. The mark of the humans was easy to make out.
“But there’s some of us.” He looked furtively about before leaning in closer. “Looking to make it more.”
“Not interested,” he finally spoke.
“Look, I get it ain’t easy to trust. Especially when it looks like a human’s extending the hand. But you know what’s in my mug. And it ain’t ale. Don’t let the appearance fool you. Still got the fangs, even if they are filed. Got the ears too.”
The stranger lifted his hair and lips to reveal what he was talking about. The disfigurement of the ears was hidden by the long hair. They were once pointed but had been cut short. The fangs were filed to the length of the other teeth.
“Humans did that?” he found himself curious to know.
There was a shrug, “might as well have. If we didn’t have to hide what we are, wouldn’t have had to take these measures. But the humans don’t exactly tolerate us walking around making our own decisions about our lives.”
He’d done this to himself? Muted shock rested in his gaze.
“Name’s Notes,” he introduced himself. “You find yourself needing a friend, you come find us.”
A coin shot from Notes’ hand. Nevetes caught it effortlessly without taking his eyes from the stranger with the strange proposition.
Notes stood up, “wouldn’t bring the human with though. Not everyone is as tolerant as I am. And not everyone’s quite willing to give up their fangs.”
He moved off to disappear into the crowd. Nevetes looked down at the untouched mug. The blood was still warm with notes of ale heavy in it. Without tasting it, he knew it was a fresh kill. The damned thing practically still had a pulse.
Movement across the bar caught his eye. It was time he left as well. He moved opposite to the route Notes had taken. He wanted nothing to do with a band of Primals that would maim themselves so that they could remain hidden among the humans they killed. Still, he pocketed the coin.
He moved behind the ones that commented on the girl earlier. They were still talking about the women of the bar as though they were nothing more than objects. As he moved silently behind the one which had made the comment concerning women being seen and not heard, he placed a set of sharpened claws at his throat.
Leaning close he cautioned, “touch her in any way and you’ll feel these claws ripping out your throat.”
“Who?” the man nearly wet himself.
“Don’t take the chance in finding out.”
He left the bar without another word. Outside in the darkness anything bad could happen to a lone soul. He ripped the cloak from his neck, letting it fall softly to the dirty ground behind him. A darkness more sinister than the night hollowed out his gaze. Ahead, stumbling footsteps were his guide. The darkness hid an evil smile.
Sammy shut the door. It was just the two girls in the dorm room now. As she turned, her eyes fell to Zene who was sitting on the floor next to the things she’d brought.
“So,” Sammy pulled lightly at one of her pigtails, “do you like Bryn?”
“Very much,” Zene’s hands were upon the jacket as she twister her upper body around. “Don’t you?”
“Yah,” Sammy muttered. “You’re not really brother and sister, are you?”
“I’m not really sure what that is, but I had a sister once. We loved each other very much. I feel that same way about Bryn.”
“Really?” hope brought Sammy closer. She reclaimed a seat upon the foot of Bryn’s bed. “So, what about this other guy?”
A question arose in Zene’s expression, “Nevetes?”
Sammy nodded, “yah. Bryn seems real worried about him. Like, he’ll do something bad. Is he a bad guy?”
Zene’s head shook, “not at all. He pretends to mind when I’m cold or tired, but he keeps me warm and doesn’t complain much when we stop. He trusted me to fix his hand when he was hurt. He doesn’t care that I’m not very smart about the world. He tries to keep me safe from any fighting, but he appreciates when I help. He could have left me after we escaped the prison, but he didn’t.”
“Like a real prison?” Sammy’s eyes had gone huge!
“He carried me out of there.”
“He rescued you?” Sammy finally found her voice, and it was filled with romantic envy.
Zene shook her head with a small laugh, “I think he was using me to rescue himself.”
“What?” The romantic fancy was gone.
“Inside a mountain there are more kinds of guards than there are prisoners. Humans, creatures that attack any moving thing, and him.”
Zene looked at the younger woman, “he was my guard, but he was also a prisoner too. He never wanted to be there. So, when I got myself out of the well, I think he saw…I don’t know. But he saved us both!”
“Zene?” Sammy seemed hesitant to ask.
“Hmm?” she responded softly.
Sammy’s gaze had moved off to the side and she nervously ran a hand over her upper arm. “How come you were in a – prison?”
“The first memories I have are of my sister and our meadow. But one day, other people came. Angry men who saw me…”
She was watching her hands, but the memories weren’t something Zene had the strength to relive.
Tears fell from her eyes, “it’s my fault she died.”
From behind her fingers, Sammy breathed the hardest question, “why?”
“I tried to use my powers to protect her. I used them against the men. But Elementals aren’t to use their powers against humans. Not ever.” She reached for Nevetes’ jacket to pull it into her arms. The book lay on the floor.
“Eleh…you’re an…?” Sammy couldn’t get the words out.
“Humans aren’t to help Elementals, so they sent a Primal loose to kill my sister as punishment. I didn’t know then that Primals are meant to be controlled by Elem…” Zene’s sorrow had turned to a question, and it was this that had stopped her sentence from completing. Her head tilted to the side a little as she stared upon the book. The thoughts started to come out, “Primals are given Elementals to watch that can’t hurt them. And Elementals are assigned Primals they can control. But Nevetes is different. He’s stronger than even Kihivas. I think that’s because they combined his mother’s blood with a vampire.”
“Vampire?” Sammy looked pale!
“But I’m different too,” Zene kept going with her thoughts to try and make sense of something. “I can do more than other Elementals. Maybe that’s because I’m not the prisoner they try to tell me I am. Just like Nevetes’ isn’t the monster they say he is!”
“What are you saying?”
“That because I can do something, I should!” Zene jumped up, pulling the book into her hands just like the jacket was. With determination in her eyes, she moved to Bryn’s bed. There she handed both items over to Sammy, who’s arms numbly accepted what was handed to them. She then pulled at the buttons of her own jacket to remove it. “I need you to take care of those. They’re very important to Nevetes!”
“Where are you going?” Sammy called out as Zene’s jacket landed next to her on the bed and Zene moved towards the door.
“I know what it’s like to lose a sister,” she said, stopping a moment to look over her shoulder. “I won’t let your friend know what that’s like. I’m going to find Krista!”
Zene moved out into the hallway. Sammy stared for half a moment. She looked upon the items she now held in her arms.
“A vampire and an Elemental.” Slowly she nodded acceptance, “Okay!”
Sammy jumped up from the bed.
Chad walked back into the dorm room holding a tray of food. Open mouthed to announce his arrival, he looked about in question at the empty room that greeted him. His eyes spotted the jackets and the book upon the bed. “The hell?”
Kihivas sat in the tall grass of the meadow where Zene once sat in the rain. Atop his head, strands of hair pulled away from the buns. Upon his mouth and chin, blood sat heavy as he chewed the flesh from the body it was pulled from. He was weakened from a battle he’d lost. Evidence of a fierce battle lay all about him. The humans that had come to the meadow were his source of nourishment now.
Kihivas looked up, a strip of meat slapping his jaw. Slowly he chewed as he watched a familiar figure cut across the meadow. Even from a distance, red-hued eyes stared down upon him, “ignore the meat, and stick with the blood. Your body doesn’t need the meat and it’ll only slow you down.”
It was a challenge that Kihivas willingly met. Injuries would heal, and he was far from beaten yet. The grass moved in his wake; the only evidence that he’d passed through. His fist landed solidly in Nevetes’ palm, the sound of them meeting echoed across the meadow. Red-hued eyes turned darker with cold malice. Fearful questioning lit Kihivas’ eyes, but it was too late to back out of the fight.
“Unless it’s my demon side that rejects the meat and not the vampire.”
“Demon?” Kihivas watched as Nevetes’ claws gripped his fist.
“Did you not know, brother?” Nevetes’ threw Kihivas away. Only his arm had moved to do so. Slowly, his gaze followed.
Fangs bared, Kihivas rushed back. Nevetes joined the action and raced with equal speed. They collided, shoulder to shoulder, and spun violently about. Nevetes’ claws slashed just a breath above Kihivas’ head, a quick dodge that had narrowly saved his life! Kihivas slammed his fist into Nevetes’ side. The impact hurt Kihivas’ hand. He growled. Nevetes grabbed the back of his neck and threw Kihivas away in the opposite direction their momentum had them moving.
Kihivas landed hard in the ground upon his feet. He dug hard into the earth, churning it up behind him. He used that as leverage to shoot forward. His fists were ready with his head low to protect his vulnerable neck.
Nevetes spun through the air at the last moment, avoiding any contact. Kihivas put the brakes on. Nevetes landed on soft knees. Across the distance between them he asked, “you avoid using your claws. Are they weak? Or are you?”
Kihivas snarled just as he launched forward. His fists led the charge. They met, hands batting away fists. Slowly, Kihivas gained ground. His fist thrust forward with deadly speed. It was met by claws gripping around the wrist. Kihivas was tossed through the air.
He landed hard upon the earth halfway across the meadow. Nevetes’ knuckles cracked as he flexed the claws of his left hand.
“I didn’t come here to kill you. Or to fight.” He stated coldly, “didn’t expect to find you here.”
The last was a demand for an answer. Kihivas smiled darkly, “the General hunts you. I’m only one of a half dozen teams tracking you down.”
“You’re here alone now. Do you still cower at their command?”
Kihivas responded to the threat. He came for Nevetes. As their hands met, the ground at both their heels furrowed. Anger sparked in Kihivas’ eyes, “I don’t cower. I am a Primal!”
“Then act like it,” Nevetes snarled back. “You are stronger than they. You lived. They can’t say the same.”
They flew apart. Claws and fists remained at the ready.
Kihivas explained with narrowed vision, “a Rogue did this. Demon perhaps, though she didn’t look sick.”
“Mae,” he spoke the name given to her by Zene.
Kihivas glared yet didn’t argue, “she can kill with only a touch. The guard here found that out firsthand.”
Nevetes simply stared at Kihivas.
“General Vania moved on ahead, leaving the Tracker and some men with orders to kill us both. Suddenly, we were fighting at two fronts. That Tracker is a monster, but he knows how to fight! I got a chunk out of his shoulder, but he broke all my damned ribs.” There was a pained laugh from Kihivas, “thankfully, vampires don’t need to breathe much. A little more blood and I’ll be fine.”
Kihivas attacked! The flowers of the meadow flew out in a miniature storm. Teeth came for Nevetes’ arm. He pulled back. His left fist connected with Kihivas’ cheek. Kihivas spun into Nevetes’ chest. His elbow pushed the air out of Nevetes’ lungs. He was sent flying backwards.
Nevetes pulled Kihivas along with him. Next to his ear, he demanded to know, “what happened to Mae?”
“I don’t know,” Kihivas dig his claws into Nevetes’ arm trying to pull the claws away from his neck. “When I woke, the guard were all dead, and your little freak and the Tracker had vanished. Considering how quickly he took me out, figure even something like her didn’t stand a chance.”
With a shift in weight, Nevetes slammed his opponent into the ground. Flowers were sent sailing through the air.
From the weight pressing down on him, Kihivas strained to glare, “why do you even care? Unless you came for her?”
“Wrong Elemental,” the words were hollow and cold.
“Elemental?” Kihivas’ expression reflected his tone.
“Not what I care to discuss,” Nevetes pressed harder.
“Tell me brother, what was it like to be human all the years they’d fed me your blood. Unlike our mother, your memories don’t belong to me.”
“What are you talking about?” Kihivas growled. His claws shot up, running next to Nevetes’ cheek.
Nevetes gave a cruel smile. He had Kihivas’ arm now and used it to throw him across the meadow. Already he chased after. Kihivas and Nevetes met again as the former sailed through the air. He grabbed a hold of Nevetes’ arm to pull it in, rendering it useless to harm. Kihivas’ other hand moved for the exposed throat. Nevetes’ left hand, free from restraint, jammed upwards. Surprise widened Kihivas’ eyes, blood spurted from his mouth. Nevetes’ hand was covered in blood.
They pulled violently apart, Kihivas’ blood sailing through the air. Both landed not too far apart. Kihivas held a hand over the wound. Dark blood crept slowly over the fingers.
Kihivas’ eyes reflected that darkness, “I am a Primal. Any part of me that used to be human died a long time ago.”
Nevetes surged forward. His elbow connected solidly with Kihivas’ chin, sending him flying back. Nevetes followed, his claws finding the neck and holding fast, “but you remember.”
Kihivas’ claws emerged, running up towards Nevetes’ face. The two smallest on the hand dug deep into the soft flesh of his chin, the middle sliced through the skin along the cheek. The last barely nicked the skin, drawing only a small line of blood.
In this position neither would win.
Kihivas posed the question, “why?”
He released Kihivas’ neck. Kihivas withdrew his claws. “Our mother was betrayed by her own species. So, maybe Zene was right after all and not all humans deserve to die. So, I want to know what you remember of being human.”
Holding to his wounded side, Kihivas spoke with anger, “I remember being beaten for years. Kept in a cage when I wasn’t worked to the bone. The only contact was their fists or when they came to draw more blood. Losing that much blood, that often, it makes you weak. And it only got worse the older I got. So yah, I’m willing to say they deserve death.”
Nevetes stayed motionless.
Kihivas continued, “then the day came they fed me big meals of steak. I’d never tasted anything so good. Days of lavish meals inside a cramped cage.”
“Pigs just before the slaughter.”
Kihivas looked in question. He didn’t understand.
Nevetes explained, “you’d become useless. I was dying, and even your blood couldn’t stave that off any longer. Not unless they changed it. So, they prepared you for the vampire infection that would save my miserable life.”
“So, all of it? Everything I’d gone through?” Kihivas struggled with his anger.
“My fault?” Nevetes questioned. He shrugged, “I don’t know. But if you want to come at me, be prepared to lose the fight.”
Kihivas snarled as he launched towards Nevetes. Nevetes had his shirt and tossed Kihivas into the air. Twisting his body about set him facing Nevetes even as he continued through the air. The claws and fangs of a vampire were borne as a threat. Nevetes shot a look upwards over his shoulder. Darkness had taken over the eyes. From his back, the wings of a demon emerged. Smoke poured from them and swirled within his eyes.
Fear entered Kihivas. Solidly, he landed back upon the earth, any thought of continuing the fight had vanished.
Nevetes breathed slowly, his eyes reflecting an internal battle, “all the years you were human, were the years I spent fighting this. All I knew was death, until your blood carried the vampire component.”
Kihivas’ voice dropped low, “they never told me about you. Only once talked about any mother.”
Nevetes’ wings were concealed once more. He looked sidelong at Kihivas. “She’s in a place called Hope. Come with, if you want to know more.”
He moved off leaving Kihivas to do as he wanted. From the ground next to the dead bodies of the fallen guard, Kihivas growled, “what is Hope?”
“Where the hell did you learn that name?” The guard they confronted looked about fearfully.
“We’re just trying to find my sister,” Reis implored. The day was waning and their lack of success bore heavily upon the young man.
“Look kid, forget that name real fast,” the guard spoke in an undertone, casting a furtive glance up the road. “You keep digging and you’ll find the answers you want, but not in the way you want.”
Bryn and Reis gulped nervously.
“Be smart and shut your faces fast. Get going home.”
“But my sister,” Reis’ clenched fists trembled slightly.
“You’re lucky you got this warning. No one on our level knows shit beyond fearing that name. People who utter it disappear. Go home now!”
The guard walked away. Reis moved to follow, but Bryn put a hand on his chest.
“Bryn,” Reis argued, watching the guard move up the road.
“We can’t risk it,” Bryn held his friend back.
“If it brings me to Krista,” Reis pushed his hand away.
“There’s no guarantee that it will,” he held Reis’ arm. His friend looked at him, giving his words consideration. Bryn continued, “I doubt whoever is behind the abductions would bring us to the missing girls. Not as we are. We’d probably just end up dead in a ditch somewhere.”
Bryn ran his hands over his arms as a chill ran up his back. Reis looked a little paler as the reality sunk in. He shook his head and looked at Bryn, “so, what am I supposed to do?”
“I think we need to come up with a new plan.” Bryn walked away from the guard post. The boys kept their heads down as they talked quietly.
“What are you thinking?”
“They aren’t going to take a couple of boys our age, but they may take a girl,” Bryn looked unhappy with this thought.
Reis glanced about furtively before leaning in closer to Bryn, “do you mean Sammy or Zene?”
“No,” Bryn negated quickly with a wave of his hands! “A different girl. Someone new.”
“But,” Reis shook his head in confusion. Then understanding opened his eyes wide, “you don’t mean you?”
“I haven’t been seen here before. Not like that. And I still have the parts, even if I don’t want to.”
“Bryn no,” his friend refused. “You’ve worked too hard.”
“It’s only for a short time. Just until we find Krista,” he made his argument.
Again, Reis shook his head, “and then what? You find her but you have no way of telling us. What if we can’t follow you? What if there’s too many people about to get you and Krista out?”
“Then,” he shrugged helplessly, “at least she’ll have a friend with her. At some point we’ll be able to escape together.”
“How?” Reis demanded as softly as he could.
Silence was the only response because Bryn didn’t yet know.
A sigh moved past Reis’ lips. He looked ahead as they walked. Finally, he spoke, “we could try to sew some tools and weapons into a dress. Something you could use once you’re inside.”
Bryn nodded, “it’s a good plan.”
“It’s a weak one,” Reis stated with muted anger. But that anger vanished, “but I don’t see another option.”
They moved up the road, headed back to the school. Their plan weighed heavily upon both their minds.
In the quiet, Reis said softly, “thanks man.”
Kihivas lagged behind, held back by injuries. They walked through a quiet forest. Nevetes’ eyes watched a motionless stag. They’d been spotted, and the creature sensed danger in them. Nevetes moved on.
“If you take blood from a vampire, it dies. We cannot regenerate the blood we have.” Kihivas shrugged, “at least not quickly enough. A vampire without enough blood is just comatose.”
Nevetes moved on steadily.
Anger lit Kihivas’ tone, “I’ve seen it. A reminder of our fate if we disobeyed.”
Nevetes didn’t respond. He was focused upon the path ahead.
Kihivas stopped, his breathing somewhat labored from the frustration and pain he felt. With a snarl he asked, “why did you leave with that Elemental? You knew what would happen.”
“No,” Nevetes finally responded, though he didn’t turn and he didn’t stop moving. “I knew what they told us. But the truth is, we are stronger than they. And their only leg up was trying to escape.”
“So you just decided to leave?”
“The answers I wanted weren’t in that mountain,” Nevetes finally turned around. At his back, a tower loomed beyond his shoulder. “They were in there.”
All of Kihivas’ indignant anger stepped back for a moment as he stared with wide eyes upon the buried town. “What is it?”
“Hope,” Nevetes was moving towards the tower. “The place where our mother lost the fight to save us.”
The hand Kihivas held over his wound trembled, “this?”
“Buried beneath the rubble,” Nevetes confirmed.
They moved on, coming to stand before the tower. Nevetes led the way through the broken window he and Zene had used to come in. Kihivas spent a moment looking upon the rubble that blocked the passage down. Dark eyes held to it as his feet moved to follow Nevetes.
In the darkness, as they rounded the bend, Kihivas asked, “how much do you remember?”
“Upon what?” there was a growl in the darkness.
“Whose memory you want.” Nevetes lowered his head the smallest fraction, “I remember dying on a cold table, tubes running into my arms. I remember the searing pain of the disease as it entered my body on the back of her blood.”
The door stood open before him.
Nevetes stood at the threshold, “then I remember craving the death of every living creature. And I remember seeing her tears.”
Eyes to the floor, Kihivas muttered, “I don’t…have any memories at all of a mother. I barely know what one is.”
Nevetes stepped into the room. Chaos was all about. More than what he’d left. He stopped moving to kneel. His knee touched water. His claws scored ice. It was a thick layer with deep hollows in the center showing that someone had been encased within. A sword had nicked human flesh when it had been used to chisel the way out of the trap. Droplets of blood still stained the ice. His eyes narrowed.
Kihivas took his first steps in and growled. But it wasn’t the chaos. A figure was forming; coalescing where Nevetes had last seen him.
“What is it?” Kihivas demanded.
“A wraith; the unsettled spirit of a human bound to this place.” Nevetes looked at Anthony. “You didn’t find your penance.”
Anthony shook his head.
“She got away,” his desire for this was hidden behind a cool tone.
This time, the answer was a simple nod.
Relief closed his eyes for a moment. Opening only minutely, he sought his next answer, “was it General Vania?”
His narrowed eyes caught the nod.
“He’s been following you,” Kihivas pointed out. “Chasing you obsessively.”
“Because the humans lie,” Nevetes’ countenance turned dark. “And they would hate for the truth to come out.”
“What does that even mean?” Kihivas’ teeth were clenched tightly. “What brought you here? How do you know about wraiths? How did you know you could use the Elemental to escape?”
“Chance. Coincidence. Or our mother’s guiding hand. I don’t know which it is.” Nevetes moved to the open window.
“Why?” It was a loaded question. Emotionally driven, Kihivas stared across the room with every muscle taught.
“There are memories distorted in blood that I have no right to. And knowledge I didn’t personally obtain,” Nevetes offered his gaze up to the ceiling. “In a cell, all alone, our mother gave birth to two boys. She held us that night. Giving us our first taste of milk, and our first taste of love. She couldn’t stop crying, for she knew what the morning would bring.”
“How?” Kihivas barely uttered the word.
But Nevetes shook his head, “I don’t know why I have that memory. Or any that don’t belong to me. Perhaps it’s her way of living on. Or maybe it’s just a mutation of the disease that took her life.”
The wraith held a guilty look.
“What are you going to do?” Kihivas asked.
Nevetes stared out the window contemplating that very question. Finally, he answered, “the urge to kill was overwhelming when I’d learned the truth here. Leaving was the only way I could protect her.”
Kihivas and Anthony watched him.
His eyes moved out the window, “but you’re right, Vania is obsessive. And now that she’s stood up to him, he won’t let that go. It’s time I found Zene again.”
“What am I supposed to do?” the question came as he leaned out the window.
He turned his head. From his pocket, Nevetes pulled something out, fingers running over the surface. “The leash has been cut. Talk to the wraith if you want to know about the world you’re now in.”
A coin flew from Nevetes’ hand. It was caught effortlessly by Kihivas. Between two fingers he held it up for inspection.
Nevetes explained, “he introduced himself as Notes. Said he was with a group of Primals looking to find their way in the human world. I don’t trust him. And I don’t respect him.” With that, Nevetes leapt.
Kihivas moved to the window. Nevetes’ landing sent a circle of dust out violently and left a crater in the ground. He launched, vanishing into the woods.
Kihivas flicked his wrist to recapture the coin in the palm of his hand. Slowly, he nodded, “okay then, brother.”