The Secret History of Vampires – part 9
"Is it over then?" Katiya sat on one of the chairs, watching Alexei sort through things on her desktop. "That's it? The American's are gone." She absently rubbed at the slight bruising around her neck where Paul had grabbed her.
"I doubt it." Alexei said looking up as she sorted papers and older parchments into piles. Satisfied with what she had she rolled them up and tied them with a piece of leather. "Katiya, I..." She was cut off by a knock.
"Yes." She bellowed.
Lyov opened the door looking nervous a piece of paper in his hand.
"Before another century goes by." Alexei said to get the man started.
"A note was dropped off for you." The words were hazy; he had been stunned by the man's appearance.
"It’s about time." Alexei muttered taking the note from Lyov. "Thank you, you may go." She said dismissing Lyov absently as she opened the note.
A frown marred her features as she read the note and then she threw it into the fireplace.
"Something’s wrong." That was rather obvious from the expression on Alexei's face. "Is Karl still coming here?"
"Yes, Karl is on his way here. He'll be here with in the hour. You will not be here."
"In an hour?" Katiya blinked in surprise. "Wasn't he coming tomorrow night?" She stood up, moving closer.
"His train didn't stop took a direct route here, with no stops. That means bad things." She walked over to Katiya and handed her the papers. "These are important."
Automatically Katiya took them, frowning at them and then up at Alexei. "Important for what?" She didn't understand what Alexei was doing.
The vampire sighed. "Stop asking questions and just take them. When you finally learn to read you'll understand."
"What aren't you telling me?" She took them though, folding them carefully to put them into the bag where she still had the cup. The writing on them was nothing more than squiggles to her.
Alexei grunted and swept the rest of the paper on her desk into the fire. "That more than likely we will not see each other again." She did not give herself time to think on the words, because then that odd ache in her chest would start again.
"What?" Katiya yelped, grabbing Alexei's arm to get her to look at her. "No. That's..." She'd just been about to say not fair, but of course the world wasn't fair and she stopped herself short. "I'm not leaving you."
"Yes, you are. Because if Karl plans anything it’s to take you away from me, because that would hurt me more than anything else." She pushed Katiya away. "Now go grab what you need, you're leaving as soon as you can."
Katiya stood there, staring at Alexei. "But..." She'd thought there was time, a lot of time, to get to spend with the vampire. They'd just won! This couldn't be happening.
"Katiya, Ivan was working for Karl, not the American; he set up a trap for both of us so Karl could swoop in and tie up loose ends while the victor was still recovering. I have a spy in Karl’s household and I'm sure there is one in my own household, although who I could not tell you. Trust me when I say there is no more time."
"There has to be more time!" She didn't understand why it had to end so soon.
Alexei growled and grabbed Katiya's arm pulling her to the door. Opening it she bellowed for Fiona.
In the aftermath of the yell the house was silent and then the sound of footsteps was heard.
"No. No, Alexei, don't." Katiya pleaded, trying to twist away from the arm that was gripping her. "Alexei don't send me away. I can help!"
The vampire's eyes were blazing. "For once stop fighting me, stop being willful and please do just one thing for me." Her voice was soft an odd counterpoint to her fierce expression. "Please live for me."
"Please, don't..." She begged, searching Alexei's face for any sign of yielding.
There was none though and she bowed her head finally, tears tracing her cheeks as Fiona came up the stairs. Looking back and forth between the two of them, not sure what she was seeing.
Alexei leaned forward kissing Katiya's face, kissing up her tears, her lips, and kissed her way to Katiya's ear. "In these few months you have brought me back to life and filled it with emotions and events I have no language for. Do not give up, nothing is ever certain." She whispered into that ear words for only Katiya to hear.
The redhead hugged her tight, desperately, not wanting to let go. This was too sudden; she'd thought there would be time, more time.
"Alexei?" Fiona stood nearby, watching them uncertainly.
Composing herself she turned and looked at Fiona, "Take Katiya upstairs and pack a bag, then you, Warren, and Katiya must flee to the train station. The Caliph's train will be waiting until sunrise."
She hoped, she had no way of knowing if the Caliph got her message let alone would help.
"No." Katiya pleaded, trying to hold onto the vampire even as she disentangled herself and pushed her to Fiona.
Alexei stroked Katiya's hair and then her back, and then pushed her away. "I'm sorry but we cannot stand still.”
"Come on." Fiona tugged, pulling her down the hallway away from Alexei.
She turned away striding down the hallway. It looked like she and Timur would finally find out who the bigger monster was. "Stepan, Niki, and Nada; to me! We have a guest to prepare for."
"Come on." Fiona repeated again pulling Katiya towards the stairs.
Still silently crying, Katiya leaned against Fiona, stumbling blindly down the hall to the stairs and then up them. "I don't want to leave." She didn't have a choice though.
"She's our home, I don't want to leave either, but don't dishonor her like this. This may be her last wish, so let her have it." Fiona tried not to be too harsh but she was scared, scared for them all.
"But she could fight. She can win." She'd seen Alexei fight, seen the way she battled through the odds. "She can win." Katiya repeated, even as they started to frantically pack.
"Yes, don't lose hope. I'll be right back, I'll grab Warren and a few things and then we'll go."
"Hope." Katiya nodded, shakily, wiping the tears from her eyes. Quickly she grabbed a few dresses that she'd liked and shoved them into a bag that she'd found so very conveniently by the door. "Thank you Lyov." She called into the air.
“Looks like you’re not the favored anymore.” The cold voice cut through silence.
Turning in surprise Katiya found Molly leaning arrogantly against the door. “I thought you were banished.” Katiya spat out barely able to hold back her anger.
"Just for the day. Anyways, not that I don't like you're company, but I'm here on an errand. Alexei says to drink it. It’s a going away present; at least you get some of her blood for the road. If you drink it all up it will stave off the withdrawals until you can find a safe place to go through them." The English woman tossed the bottle at the redhead. "Nice knowing you." She said slinking out of the room
"Withdrawals." Shit. She'd forgotten all about that. The vial was full of blood. "She must be busy preparing to send Molly." Popping the cork she tilted it upwards, drinking. It tasted like blood but there was something different, an aftertaste she didn't remember from Alexei's.
No time for that now though she quickly finished packing and pulled the pack up over her shoulders.
After a moment of thought she ended up slinging the bag with the cup under her own coat. She'd keep it safe for now.
"Fiona?" The redhead called, hurrying down the steps. Where had Vidar gone too?
Fiona came inside the door, looking frazzled, and winded. "Are you ready..." She was cut off by Vidar, now in his human shape.
"Fiona, may I have a moment with Katiya." The big man asked.
"I.. well... just a moment we have to go."
"I know." He said pushing past Fiona.
"Thank you Fiona." Katiya looked at the Nordic man curiously as she stepped aside as well. "What's wrong?" Other than the obvious.
"Nothing is wrong. I just wished to say good-bye for now." He stood uncertainly for a moment, then opened up his arms and engulfed her in a hug.
Katiya nodded, slowly and let go. "I'll see you again Vidar. Fight well?"
"Of course, also if I do fall in battle do not fear. I'm not sure if I can explain, the Hound's of Hel were created from Wild Magic old as the world's birth. If I die it’s very likely I will not remain so." He shrugged, not really understanding, he had yet to die. "As long as the world endures so do the hounds." Although, their purpose before Hel was gone lost too time and memory.
"I'll see you again." She promised this time, seeing Fiona waiting nervously by the door. "Help Alexei? Promise me?"
"Of course." He clasped her chin, looking into her eyes. "Karl comes for blood; there is no diplomacy, no words. He wants blood and battle. I plan to give him one and then stake him out for the sun to destroy."
"Good. Make him scream." She grimaced a little, her stomach feeling off. What had she eaten last? She couldn't even remember now.
"Enjoy your battle." It wasn't hers and that was hard to admit, but how could she fight in a battle between vampires? A human, even a pet, would be nothing but chafe in something like that.
"I will Katiya." Vidar, promised solemnly. "You stay out of trouble." He said before turning and leaving.
"I know." She said to Fiona's worried expression. "Time to go."
Fiona cleared her throat as she passed Vidar and re-entered the room. "Ready?" Seeing the look on the young woman's face she gently patted her on the arm. "As ready as you can be?"
"It's happening to fast." Katiya rubbed her stomach, wondering if she was getting cramps. "Let's go find Warren." She wanted to find Alexei, desperately, but instead she went with Fiona down towards the kitchen.
"I'm right here." He said bustling into the room with bags in both hands. "Not sure I have a clue what's got everyone’s knickers in a twist."
"Shut the door dear, or the secret passage won't open."
"Karl's coming." Katiya answered, looking at Fiona questioningly. "Secret passage?"
The Scottish man sighed looking at his full hands and then toed the heavy door shut.
"Of course, there's a secret passage, every drafty old manor and castle has one." She moved to the closet and opened one of the doors and began knocking on the back wall of the thing.
"Where is it?" She muttered. "We've never used it but once to make sure it worked." There was a hollow thump and Fiona smiled and pulled up the small fake panel and pulled a lever. The back of the closet swung open.
"Did Alexei tell us to bring her?" Warren asked hesitating.
Fiona sighed at the top of some steps as she picked up the matches next to a torch in the wall. She stuck a match and held it to the torch until it lit. "Alexei didn't tell us to bring Molly with us. In fact she told Molly she was kicking you out of the house."
"Why did she do that?" Warren asked confused.
That was news to Katiya as well. Picking up two of the bags she wondered if Warren had packed the entire kitchen's worth of pots and pans in them. The steps inside the closet were, thankfully, dry and by the light of Fiona's torch they started down into the darkness.
"She said it because obliviously she's not as blind to Molly's behavior as we all thought and she doesn't trust her. Now shut the closet door dear so they won't notice the secret passage way."
"Uh, yes dear." He quickly complied.
Vidar was still in human shape as he went down the main stairs to the entryway. Alexei was already there, as still as a statue. It was going to be a pleasure fighting alongside her again. "I knew it was a good night to fight." he called, grinning widely.
"As long as it is not a good night too die." True while she might have welcomed it months ago, now she found her desire to slip into the black void of nothing not appealing at all.
"It will be a good night for their deaths." He pledged, feeling that delicious tension before the start of a battle building. "Shall I wait with you here, or catch them by surprise when it starts?"
"Surprise my friend; we can use all the advantages we can get so fresh off an earlier battle." She motioned for him to go before the others in the household arrived.
He started for a side doorway, already stripping in preparation for changing his shape again. "Whatever happens, it has been enjoyable, like the old times."
She turned smiling. "That it has. But have you learned what it means now to have freewill?"
"Annoying!" He yelled back, the last syllables turning into a growl as he shifted and the white hound bounded around the corner.
She chuckled. "She has your portion of the horn, without freewill you would be with her and not here." Part of her wished Vidar would have remained at Katiya's side but he'd made his choice and that was what she had wanted him to do for centuries; make a choice.
Lyov was suddenly next to the door, the gnarled old man looking the same as he always did. "He is almost here mistress. You have freewill as well." It was as close to second-guessing her, as he would get.
She took a deep breath and then slowly let it out. "No Lyov, history shows that those with too much power are not allowed to simply slip away in the night. They are given one final test to live or die the outcome written by the winner. This is my moment."
She stared at her children, pets, and servants as they came into the entryway. "Everyone Karl comes to us tonight; he will bare an olive branch hiding a sword. You all have been faithful and loyal, so I will not lie. If he comes here to brandish that sword all our lives are forfeit. You may run if you wish, flee, but I have no doubt he plans to burn and sow salt into all that bare the burden of my house. If you wish to run, know that I will bare you no ill will, in fact will applaud you for your common sense."
The hunched over gnome of a man at the door grumbled as he took the door handle and pulled it open. A line of carriages was pulled up outside in the driveway. Even as Lyov opened the door, figures sprang out of them into the night. A group of them went to the middle carriage, attending circling around the man who emerged from it.
Karl strode towards the door, ringed by his children. Timur lumbering alongside him, eyes eerily bright in the darkness as they started up the steps towards the house. "Alexei. How nice to see you again." It didn't sound like he was happy to see her at all.
"Karl." Alexei said with a brief nod of her head. "Imagine my surprise when I received word you were arriving tonight, and so close to sunset. I'm not prepared at all to receive guests."
"I have a new train. It's faster than the old one." A lie of course. He wanted to be there before she'd gotten back from the attack in the cemetery. "Are you going to invite us in?" They stood waiting just in front of the door.
"Of course, of course. You are the Lord while I am but a vassal. If you don't mind a short wait I'm sure we can prepare a simple meal and drinks for all."
"Good of you to remember your place." Karl stepped past Lyov and into the manor itself. The younger vampires followed him inside, there were a lot of them and the grand hall suddenly felt smaller. Timur waited, watching Alexei with a bloodthirsty look in his eyes.
"I've never forgotten my place; I always have you to remind me of it. Now if you'll follow me I will show you to the dining hall." She walked past Karl's pets and vampires unconcerned, because they were little more than bugs to her.
Karl's glance took in those gathered in the hall as he followed after her. "Your household has gotten smaller it seems."
"Well the oddest thing happened. I found a whole nest of exiled American vampires in my territory." She replied walking down the hallway and pushed open the doors to the dining hall, the torches flared to life filling it with light.
"You allowed exiles into your city? Tsk tsk Alexei. That sounds... careless of you." The others filed into the room behind them.
"Oh I didn’t allow it, so don't worry. They're all dead now. Please have a seat and I'll see what we have in the kitchen, and then you can tell me why you're here." The longer she talked the closer to sunrise they got.
"We didn't come all this way for you to bring us refreshments. I think we should, talk, first." He too knew how close the sunrise was.
"Very well then." She went to the head of the table and sat down. "Let us talk, please have a seat."
Timur growled a low rumbling in his massive chest, annoyed with these pointless pleasantries. Karl gave her a mocking smile and moved to the chair at the foot of the table, staring across its long length at her. "It seems to me you've been careless a lot recently, Alexei."
"I have, have I?" She lifted her feet up onto the table and crossed her feet looking as if she didn't have a care in the world. "Well I'll admit for awhile I was debating on whether or not to take a few decades long nap, but I seem to have snapped out of that."
A flash of annoyance crossed his eyes and was just as quickly hidden. Stepan shifted a little from behind her, not quite as relaxed as his mistress was. They were significantly outnumbered although the Twins didn't seem to care too much.
"Yes you have." Karl leaned forward a little. "Let's dispense with the bullshit. I know you have the cup. Give it to me and you can keep your manor." That was a lie too of course, they both knew that.
Alexei looked at Karl bemused and then laughed. "You came all this way for a cup. Well go check my kitchen there are a lot in there, take whichever one that you want."
"Do not toy with me!" The veneer of sophistication slipped, his fingernails gouging her table top. "You know what I'm talking about!" Timur smiled behind his master. This was much better.
"No I don't. You're going to have to be more specific." She stayed relaxed; it was hard to get stressed at this moment, because now she saw that all the paths had lead here for some reason so what was to occur was inevitable.
"You know what I'm talking about." He stood up, the chair scrapping as he pushed it back. "The Grail. The one that the priests are so obsessed with finding. This is your last chance Alexei."
Alexei started laughing; laughing so hard her feet fell from the table, hitting the floor with a loud, thump. "You're going to kill me over a legend."
"Not all of it's a legend. But you knew that already." He spoke through clenched teeth, furious with her laughter at him. "Timur." The large man unfolded his arms. "Would love to take your manor apart to look for it." The sunrise was near; he wouldn't let this go much longer.
Alexei got her chuckling under control. "Actually Karl, that's the last thing Timur wants to do. What he really wants to do is fight me. Prove he's the bigger monster, that all the stories about me are just that, stories. Isn't that right Timur?"
Her tone had shifted dipping into the dark seductive evil that was her vampiric nature, something she tried to overcome for the most part. But then again you can never really hide your true nature.
Karl stared at her, all expression gone from his face. All around them his pets and children tensed, knowing what was coming, what had been inevitable since they had arrived at the manor. For a moment they all hung there, held still by the instant before violence. Then Karl spoke, his words ripping that moment apart.
Alexei leaned forward in her chair her hands hidden under the table. She breathed out as everything seemed to slow as Karl's minions roared towards her. She smiled this she understood. She was born in an age of survival, of war and struggle as humans tried to carve their way up into the pinnacle of the food chain. She was not born in an age of words and diplomacy.
They were outnumbered and tired having just fought the Americans but they would not go down easily. They were in her territory. And while other vampires got older they developed mental powers like the voice and the stare that weakened a person will she had developed immunity to the sun as would her children she suspected.
They had to last until sunrise and then, then as they fell into slumber she would have the advantage.
Her heartbeat increased, and briefly she wished she had taken one last sip of Katiya's blood, but now was not the time for regret. In a blink the world sped up again and she stood her hand grabbing the sword from the sheath, where it had been strapped to the underside of the table. Her other hand grabbed her chair lifting and smashing it into a pet while the sword slashed up severing a head from its body.
The inhuman scream caused Katiya to twist around, looking behind her down the secret passageway back towards the manor. It had happened exactly as Alexei had feared it would then. "Stay safe Alexei. Please." She whispered in the night, turning and hurrying to catch back up with Fiona and Warren.
"I don't know. I've never taken it before. Alexei showed me once every five years to make sure I didn't forget it was there. But I think it comes out near the road just out of town. So we could easily leave by boat or train."
"We have to make it to the train station. Alexei said that the Caliph had a train there, waiting for us until sunrise. I don't know where he'll take us, she didn't say." A touch to the pack on her shoulders reassured her that she was still carrying the cup and important papers the blonde vampire had sent her away with.
"It will be tight sunrise isn't that far off. Karl is taking a huge risk." Fiona muttered as she picked up the pace.
"He must be desperate." Warren muttered, still mourning the kitchen he had just abandoned to who knew what.
The passageway ended abruptly in a solid wall with a rusting iron worked ladder attached to the blocks ascending up into the darkness above them.
"There is no love lost between them. He's a bastard that wants’ not to just be Prince over a few territories, he wants to be King, but to do that he'd need to usurp the council, those vampires are way too old for him to tangle with. I just don't understand what he's doing." Fiona said in exasperation and then started to climb, silent now to focus on getting up the cold slick ladder.
Water had dripped down from above, freezing as it struck the iron rungs and making the way up dangerous. Katiya nearly slid off the first step, swearing as she grabbed hold and took a breath. Carefully she followed Warren up, glad that it wasn't that far to the top.
"It’s stuck." Fiona said, her voice loud in the cold darkness. "There's a lever of some sort but it’s..."
She was cut off as the metal groaned and then the darkness changed lightening a little as natural light from the stars and moon could be seen through the small opening.
"I'm not sure you could make any more noise. Good thing I'm here to help you." Came Tereza's quiet voice.
"Tereza." Katiya smiled up past Warren's backside, giving him a shove to get him moving again. For a terrible second she'd thought it had been one of Karl's minions who had found them.
"Quietly, there are vampires all over the city." The hunter said as she helped Fiona, Warren and then Katiya out of the passage.
For a second Katiya didn't recognize where they were, then she realized they weren't that far from the river. The quiet neighborhood was composed of clerk and shipping offices that coordinated the flow of goods between the river and rails. Not many found a reason to be here after dark.
"Thank you." The redhead whispered to the hunter, touching her arm in thanks as she helped her up. "Fiona, Warren, this is Tereza." She said, mindful to stay quiet.
Fiona just gave the woman a once over, "So this is what had Alexei's knickers in a twist, I swear she becomes more human as she gets older. No offense."
Tereza bristled but ignored the older woman. "I got a note from the fanged wonder asking me to meet you here and wait until sunrise. What’s going on?"
"She sent you a note?" Katiya blinked in surprise. When had Alexei had time to coordinate this with the Caliph and Tereza? "Karl's attacking the manor. She's sending us to get to safety at the train station." Not much point in lying to the hunter.
The hunter's face looked wistful for a moment at the words; she was missing an opportunity to kill vampires. "I'll help you to the station and then I'm going to the manor." Defensively she added. "She spared my life and I'll not stay indebted to her."
"Thank you." Katiya said, again. Ignoring Fiona's amused look at the two of them. She had no doubt that there was going to be teasing now that the other redhead had finally met the dark skinned hunter.
"We need to move, the train will only wait until sunrise." Fiona said as she began to walk.
"I hope we know which train it is." Katiya mumbled, starting to walk a little faster. It wouldn't be that long until sunrise.
A few feet they were cutting between two houses and then on the road. It was quiet, but in the distance the factory rumbled like a hungry beast that would never get its fill.
Tereza lifted her crossbow as the train station came into sight. "I feel a buzzing of anticipation; I think we are being followed." She whispered.
"It's the train that is huffing and puffing, if it was a horse it would be chomping on the bit to exit the starting gate." Fiona said quietly not wanting to give away their ultimate goal.
True, the steam engine already was puffing, but that wasn't all. Katiya frowned slowly, turning to look behind them, listening. "No, she's right. I don't think they're vampires, but there are at least a few pets behind us."
The set to their shoulders became tense; their walk was forced casualness as they made their way closer to the train platform.
"Katiya, how nice to see you again." The voice was cold, and quiet like falling through the ice on a pond. Sergei emerged in a blur from the shadows. "I knew she would spare her favorites from the bitter truth."
Every few steps Katiya had to grit her teeth as her stomach twisted in pain. Whatever had started to bug her in the escape passage was getting worse. The redhead wasn't really that surprised when Sergei appeared. "Sergei. You're working for Karl." It wasn't really a question.
"Of course I am. It’s always better to belong to the winning side. She could have taken him down, and been the Prince. But she didn't, content to molder away in a manor in the middle of nowhere." He growled out.
"She lacked drive ambition, but I don't. Her blood is strong and someday I'll replace Karl." He smiled at that liking the taste of the words, 'Prince Sergei'.
The thugs, or whoever they were, weren't far behind them now. Maybe if she distracted Sergei, Tereza could handle them.
"Oh he's not going to kill her. He promised me that, for my loyalty. Just imprisonment for eternity.”
"We're going to finish what we started in that alley, Katiya. Then the rest of you will die and be nothing but a memory on my tongue. Or maybe I'll keep you around and see what Alexei’s fascination was perhaps you are a sweet little piece.”
"Tereza, the goons are almost here." This was going to be messy. Katiya wondered how much of her lessons with Alexei were going to make a difference.
He lunged in a move too quick for Warren to follow, and threw the Scotsman into a wall and kept going for Katiya.
She'd gotten used to watching him blur. There was nothing she could do for Warren, but she braced herself, suddenly wishing she was carrying around the long spear that Alexei had taught her with. She stabbed with the dagger, trying to judge his movement as he came and look past that odd blurring.
"On it." Tereza said turning to deal with the pack of pets. She pulled out a glass vile from the pockets of her coat and struck a match. The rag stuffed in the opening caught fire and she tossed it. It hit the ground near the approaching shadowy figures making them scatter as the fire leapt along the ground looking for a source of fuel to keep going.
Sergei had her and grinned in triumph, just as easy as it was the first time, only this time Alexei wouldn't be coming to her rescue.
He could taste blood on his tongue and then realized it wasn't the memory of the first time he'd bitten her, no he was tasting his own blood in his mouth.
Blue eyes stared into Sergei's, both of them with the same shocked expression in them. Katiya's arm trembled from the blow of the solid body slamming into it moving so fast. The dagger was buried to the hilt.
He took a step back. Shock quickly changed to anger, and he ripped the blade out, opened his mouth to bellow but only more blood poured out. It wasn't fatal just annoying.
Alexei's training shook her out of her surprise as Sergei pulled away, dagger going with him. "Tereza, I need a sword!"
"I know I'm going to regret this." The hunter mumbled and then without turning pulled her short sword out of its sheath, dropped it to the ground and kicked it over towards Katiya's voice, as she loaded another bolt and fired it at the others.
"Not like our last meeting is it Sergei?" Katiya asked, trying to sound more confident than she felt. Hooking a foot under the hilt of the long curved blade she kicked it up enough that she could snatch it out of the air.
"Now maybe I see what she see's in you. Why she loves you when she never loved anyone else?" He whispered out a hoarse sucking noise punctuating his words. One hand on his throat. "She may have blessed us with this life but she never cared for us like she does for you, and we all hate you for it."
He bared his fangs and attacked.
There was no time for an answer, even if Katiya had wanted too. Death came at her in a blur of fangs and slashing claw like hands for her throat. The sword was heavier than her dagger, but she was stronger than she'd been. She was bleeding from a slash across her cheek where he'd nearly gotten her, but still alive as she panted for air, circling one another.
"You're slower than you were." She goaded, dimly aware of Fiona helping Warren to his feet while Tereza battled wave after wave of pets and hired help.
He answered with a growl, it was nearly daylight, and he could feel it prickling at his skin, making his limbs grow heavy with its coming.
"Too bad." She tried to sound happy, but thought she probably failed. The coming of day might be slowing him, but if they missed the train they might die in the city anyway. This had to end fast.
"Alexei always told me you were a coward." Taunting a vampire, a small part of her mind gibbered in terror, was a sure way to get killed.
"Not worthy of her gift. She said you were weak."
Rage sparked in his belly. "Bitch!" He howled and charged her intent in tearing her apart.
He never reached her his legs giving out he stared at her in shock, then down at the bolt blooming from his chest, as he collapsed to the ground.
Tereza snapped at them. "Stop playing with the fucking vampire and get on your train."
The sky was starting to turn gray, dawn was moments away.
"Made you forget the hunter." Katiya said grimly. "Going!" She yelled back. First things first though, she pulled back on the blade and brought it down on Sergei's neck, severing it from his head. "You coming?" She hobbled towards Fiona and Warren.
She turned back to the oncoming hoard and fired again and then drew her other long sword. The crossbow broke smashed into the face of an oncoming pet.
Warren and Fiona nodded, pale and trembling they gathered up the bags and started sprinting to the train.
"Tereza! Thank you, again." She called, pushing past the nausea to run after Warren and Fiona.
Tereza heard the words but didn't respond, to busy fighting off the wave of oncoming threatening to drown her.
The door to the train opened, a young male stood gesturing for them to hurry, his eyes glancing to the sky. They would start moving the moment the sky turned pink.
There was nothing Katiya could do for Tereza, but she knew the hunter was good at what she did. "Alexei sent us." She called, coming up behind Fiona and Warren. Her stomach roiling.
He seemed to ignore her words. "We do not take sides, your ways or not ours, but we can give you shelter from the storm, and do our best to keep you safe until it passes." He ushered them all on board and shut the door locking it.
Blinds started closing all over the train blocking out the rising sun and the train lurched into forward motion.
Fiona gripped Warren and nearly tumbled forward.
It was warm inside, and Katiya closed her eyes against sudden claustrophobic feeling that rose inside her. "Fiona..." She started to say, as the world suddenly turned sideways and she slumped slowly to the floor.
Alexei existed off the memory that Katiya lived, that she had taken that victory away from Karl. It warmed her through the pointless tortures; they were just for the sake of violence because Karl never asked her any questions. She was more nervous when the torture stopped. Now she had spent days chained to a stone table where for several hours a day she was kept awake by the small hole that let sunlight through, right on to her flesh. Madness fingered at her brain as lack of food and pain swallowed all rational thoughts leaving her nothing to cling to.
How many days had passed? Was it Spring? Summer? She mused as her head was thrown back in pain her teeth gritted so hard she'd already cracked several teeth. As the sun burned a small stripe of skin as it moved along its celestial pattern.
"I told you I'd take away everything you loved."
At first she thought she'd imagined Molly's voice, but then the woman giggled insanely on the other side of the door.
"Molly?" She gasped, spittle flying as she cracked her jaws only enough to let air escape and form that single word.
"I destroyed your world, just like you destroyed mine. I was always a traitor nesting in your house, but you're too softhearted. You felt bad for poor Molly, never occurred to you I was sent to destroy you."
"What?" She was having a hard time comprehending. "Sergei was the traitor."
"And whom do you think spent years stroking his ego? Making him think he should be in charge. But you made it so easy when you brought that girl into the house. Gave her all your time and energy, it was easy to make the others jealous to twist their thoughts against you. Vampires think they're above all the human complexities of emotions but you're not... well, unless you're like Karl. You're bloodline isn't. You're an abomination for your own kind. So easy to make sweet Shiro take her life." Molly giggled again. "Make her fear your vampiric strength instead of going to you with her fears. And you were too busy making a new pet you failed to notice your house crumbling around your ears."
"The American vampires? What... I don't..."
"Karl's plot not mine. I did my part, and beautifully and for my reward I get to be Karl's pet and then his child."
Alexei tried to push the pain away to follow what Molly was saying.
"Oh Alexei, you're precious little Katiya, is dead. I poisoned her before Warren and Fiona could smuggle her out of the house. There's nobody left but me."
Alexei's brain snapped and she lunged again and again against the chains that held her. Primitive thoughts of ripping Molly's throat fueling her. One of the metal links groaned and then snapped. Howling she through herself at the door pounding into it with the flesh of her body, making it shake and bend.
Molly's giggling turned into a scream of fear and Alexei smiled enjoying that fear.
Karl glared at her from the door way. Enjoying her pain and suffering. He took a moment to soak it in and then he entered shutting the door behind him. He was alone, no minions. But he didn't want anyone but him to hear this conversation, there was a chance things could be said he didn't want anyone to know about.
"Where's the cup?" He asked.
Alexei blinked licking shriveled dry lips, and croaked out "Did you try the kitchen? There were a lot of cups in there."
Karl made a face at the words. "Don't push me Alexei. You're already going to die now the question is how. If I had known how many skeletons were in your closest or basement really, I wouldn't have bothered with this game."
Karl stepped forward unscrewing a dropper from the top of a small glass bottle.
Unconsciously Alexei flinched knowing very well what was inside.
"Molly was because I hated you. My spy, to get dirt on destroying you. You disgust me. You were the council’s dog, when you should have been its master. You wasted your power and for what? Then there was the little matter of Terrance being my child.
Terrance, the sadistic murderer, rapist, and Molly's master. The one who nearly exposed their secret world. The one the council had sent her to kill.
"Then there's the cup. The very cup used by Christ at the last supper, the one containing his blood. Later our Elders used it in a rite to give them life beyond death to make them immortal, thus making the first vampires when the rite opened dark powers and giving them their wish for immortality at a blood price. The cup has been missing since Judas took the cup to the east to hide it so it could never be used to make more Elders or fall into the hands of some Knight of Light who could try to wipe us out. I have spent my lifetime studying stories of the cup tracing it to the Tiger of the Steppes, to you."
"Karl you'll have to be more specific. I have a lot of cups most of them in the kitchen." Alexei said with a raspy chuckle.
Angrily the male vampire lifted the dropper and squeezed out several drops out over Alexei's chest.
She writhed and screamed as each drop burned deep into her skin.
"Give me the cup and I'll convince the council to just exile you to the Americas instead of killing you."
Stubbornly Alexei remained silent.
"I tore your house apart looking for that cup. It took me a month to get through that sealed door in your basement. Imagine my surprise and delight to find that coffin with your sire bound and staked inside. You know the punishment for staking one’s Sire. Then there are the Elders; they were none to pleased to find you had Judas their brother."
Alexei just closed her eyes.
He grabbed her chin. "Why take that risk? You know the danger, especially the danger of staking you're own sire. You could have killed yourself. Once you destroy the source all who came after die. As the stories say happened to Saul."
"He is not my Sire!" Alexei opened her eyes roaring at Karl. "He is my rapist and my murderer but he did not give me immortality. My hatred for him is so cold I stalked him into the east of Byzantium to destroy him."
Karl quickly retracted his hand swallowing. She had trapped an elder hunted him into the hot sunny deserts and ruthlessly stopped his heart.
"When I was dying I found the cup and drank from it to ease my thirst." She paused to watch his eyes go wide with understanding. "When I captured... Judas did you say his name was, we never shared our names. When I captured Judas I placed him in that coffin a stake in his heart and sealed him off in the bottom of my manor with the cup. If it was not there then perhaps the cup has its own plan."
"You lie, you can't be an Elder."
"Believe what you want." She said with a shrug.
In a rage he smashed the bottle against her chest grinding the glass and holy water into both their flesh. "I want that cup."
"I don't have it." She hissed out.
"Then you'll die like your bitch pet." He spat out cradling his hand to his chest and stalking out.
Alexei said nothing watching him leave. She didn't think Katiya was dead, it was just a feeling but it was the same one that helped her feel Molly and Niki. The others she could no longer feel. Sergei, Stepan, Matvey and the others were all gone victim to politics and her pride. If she lived through this she vowed to never again give into the melancholy of time and sire children.
Still she didn't understand why the Americans had been here. Had they too heard of the cup and had traveled here to steal it for their war, would its mystic properties somehow help them win. But Molly had said they were Karl's plan. So if Karl was working with the American exiles it meant that he wanted war with the humans. Again why expose them, unless he thought he could win or there was something he would get out of a war. Karl was all about power. She still didn't understand the motivation for wanting war. But she was pretty certain now Karl wanted two things the cup and war, but she didn't see what either would bring him.
She felt cold, so very cold. Her limbs felt numb and heavy, her thoughts were just as slow. They formed slowly, congealing in the darkness that hung over her mind. At first she didn’t know where she was, didn’t care either. All that she really knew was that terrible coldness.
Eventually she realized that the place she was in was moving. It rocked back and forth and there was a clacking sound from somewhere beneath her feet. In the distance she’d hear, occasionally, a lone whistle blowing.
A train then. She realized with the same slow thoughts as before, she was on a train.
It took longer to realize that she wasn’t alone in this darkness.
“Who are you?” Her voice sounded odd, hollow to herself.
The man watched her evenly, studying her as the train moved towards whatever destination they were going to. Katiya found she didn’t care where they were going.
“My name is Caliph Dilip.”
They sat in the darkness for a bit, her eyes closed as she thought. His Russian was oddly accented but she could understand it well enough.
“Are you a friend of Alexei’s?”
The stranger made a slight sound, not really agreeing or disagreeing.
“We have known one another for a long time, Alexei and I.”
Katiya swallowed. “She’s gone isn’t she?”
“Yes.” He shook his head, looking out the window of the comfortable train car they were sitting in, watching the world outside rush past. She watched his hand close over the hilt of the ornate sword at his side, dark skinned fingers clenching tightly.
“Then Karl won.”
Dark eyes turned to pin her where she sat.
“No. You are still alive.”
The redhead laughed, closing here eyes and leaning back against the pillow behind her. “I don’t feel alive.” Cold, she pulled the blanket up higher.
“Karl poisoned you. The blood of an Elder is deadly to any mortal who it touches.”
She knew that, she thought she knew that. “So he won.”
“Not yet.” The Caliph answered those ancient dark eyes on her. “They do not dare destroy Alexei. She is too powerful. They are going to exile her to the America’s. Bury her with an iron stake through her heart and leave her to rot.”
“Can you stop them?” For the first time her eyes lifted to his with something approaching hope.
“No. It is too late; they have already sent her by ship.”
Cold was joined by another feeling, sadness. When she didn’t say anything else he spoke again.
“You haven’t asked where we are going.”
Mutely the redhead shook her head, not really caring.
“This train is called the Orient Express. It will take us to India and my home. There you will have to choose how you will die.”
Blue eyes blinked and Katiya frowned, her slow thoughts trying to keep up. “Die?”
He leaned forwards, face grave. “There is no cure to the poison that is in you. You will die, your fate is sealed.”
“Then Karl will win.”
“If you stay dead.”
It took forever for her mind to slog its way through those simple words and the almost endless repercussions they invoked.
“Yes.” He nodded, seeing the light of understanding dawning in her eyes. “You must choose. Do you love Alexei enough to follow her in death? Or will you float away into whatever afterlife awaits you?”
He chuckled. “You may not have said it, she probably has not even thought it, but you love her. I know she cared for you, she would not have sent word to me if she did not. But you must decide. The poison will kill you soon.”
“How long?” She knew it would not be long; the coldness was seeping throughout her.
“Two, maybe three days. You must choose by the end of this train ride.”
When she tried to sit up, questions only now starting to percolate through her poison addled mind he stood from his seat. “Rest. You must conserve yourself until then. Rest and think. Sunrise is not far now and I must retire to my room. I will speak to you again tomorrow night.”
With that he left her to watch the sun rise and think about her death.
Fiona found her there, watching the sunrise above the mountains in the distance. The coldness wasn’t as bad with the sunlight. How much worse would it get she wondered before the poison ran its course?
“Warren’s making you breakfast.”
Katiya didn’t say anything, trying to memorize the colors of the sunrise. Would there be sunrises wherever it was that she was going to go? If she agreed with the Caliph there would never again be a sunrise for her. But if she died, would that be any different? She’d never really believed that the priests told the truth with their pledges of an afterlife.
“You have to eat Katiya.”
She looked at the other redhead, seeing the strain on her face even as Fiona tried to stay strong throughout all that had happened. No wonder she’d been Alexei’s favorite all those years. The one that the vampire had loved.
Fiona stared at her, surprised by the question.
“Why Fiona? Everyone is dead. Matvey, Stepan, Sergei and Shiro. They’re all gone. Even Alexei. She’s not dead, but Karl’s won. She might as well be gone. I told her I’d help, but all I did was make things worse.” She didn’t know what had happened to Lyov, but she doubted it was good. Had Karl burned down the house when he’d finished in it? What about Vidar she wondered. Nothing really seemed to matter anymore. Her slow thoughts were weighed down under the poison, the coldness in her bones.
“Katiya don’t you dare give up now!” The fierce words jerked her out of her stupor and she stared at the furious woman across from her.
“Don’t you dare survive everything and now decide you’re just going to slip away. Alexei’s not dead, you said it yourself, and so she’s still out there. It might take a while, it might take a long while, but we’ll find her. Are you just going to lie down and let Karl win? Are you going to give up on Alexei?”
“No.” Katiya nodded, feeling some of the coldness lift a little. “You’re right of course. I’ll eat.”
“Good. We need you strong. Warren and I will need you to stay strong. So will our child.”
It took a moment but Katiya smiled when she realized what Fiona had said. “You’re pregnant?” That would explain some of the stressed look.
“Yes and you better be around when I give birth.” Fiona stood up, wiping at her eyes. “I’ll get you some food.”
Karl wouldn’t give up. He’d know that he hadn’t gotten Alexei’s entire household. That was something she could hold onto, that thought, that promise.
“I’ll protect them Alexei. I swear.” She closed her eyes and felt the warmth of the sun on her skin.
It was after night that a touch on her shoulder jerked her out of the uneasy sleep she’d slipped into. Her dreams had been filled with dreams of ice and dark shadows waiting for her. She woke up sweating and feverish.
Across from her sat the Caliph again, watching her with those ageless dark eyes.
“How do you feel?”
“Cold.” She gave a mocking smile, pulling blankets around her closer. “Guess that’s what happens when you’re poisoned.”
His lips curled slightly in a grin. “I think I see why Alexei chose you.”
Katiya didn’t know what to say to that so she just looked at him in confusion.
“Do you know how many humans would answer me as you have?”
“Sarcastically you mean?”
“That is part of it.” He smiled, revealing long incisors in a quick flash of teeth. “Have you thought about what we talked about earlier?”
“Yes.” She shivered, trying to organize her disjointed thoughts. “I can’t let it end like this. I want to see Alexei again; I don’t want Karl to win.”
There was that quick smile again. “Are you scared?”
She laughed shakily. “Terrified.”
He leaned forward slightly, fixing her with those dark eyes. “There are two things I must tell you then.”
This was important; she tried to focus to ignore the cold for a little while longer.
“First. The cup will either choose you, or it will not. If it does not you will die.” He looked at her intently and she frowned slowly.
“If it doesn’t why couldn’t you?”
“Make you one of my children?” He sighed and leaned back. “There have been vampires in India long before your Christ came and went. This is true in other parts of Asia and Japan as well. We are not the same as Alexei and her fellow elders. We will not take anyone who is not from our family that is our law. I will not break for anyone.”
“What’s the second?” She’d take her chances with the cup. She wouldn’t let Alexei or Fiona down.
“If you survive, you won’t be going to find Alexei right away.”
She met his eyes. “Why not?” If she survived, why wouldn’t she go right now?
“This is not up for discussion. If you are changed, you will remain with me until you have been taught everything I have to teach you.”
She frowned, not sure she understood. “But I have to go save Alexei!”
“No.” His tone deepened and those dark eyes glared at her. “If you are changed, you will be different. A new vampire will hunt for blood without thought, without reason. You will be like a beast. You must be taught to control yourself or be useless to Alexei.”
She started to argue and he continued, overriding her words. “You would attack Fiona, or Warren. You would kill them for there blood.”
Katiya blinked, sat back and closed her eyes. “How long would I have to stay?”
“Until you are ready. It could be months or years.”
There was no other way. “I’ll stay until I’m ready.”
“Good.” He stood, touching her shoulder briefly. “Rest. You will need your strength.”
He left her there, staring out the window in the dark.
With every day that passed, Katiya grew weaker and weaker. She spent most of her time by the window, watching the world passing by. By the last day she had to get Fiona to wake her up for the sunrise and sunset, wanting to watch colors bring the world alive.
During the times she was awake either Fiona, Warren or the Caliph were there to keep her company depending on the time of day it was. The cold was a permanent part of her now. Her fingers and arms were always numb now; she could no longer pick up anything with them.
“Allow me.” Strong arms picked her up and she fuzzily opened her eyes. The train had stopped she dully realized, the first time it had stopped in what felt like forever. Letting her head roll back a little she spotted Fiona nearby, watching her with a worried look that she tried to hide with a smile.
“We’re here Katiya.” The night air was warm on her cold skin as the Caliph carried her outside and carefully set her down in a waiting open air carriage.
“She’s so thin.” The words seemed to come from a distance but she thought it was Warren talking.
“The poison has spread. She does not have much time now.” The Caliph’s accented Russian replied even as the carriage started moving again. She wished she could have asked to sit up, she wanted to see where they were going but it was just too much effort to talk. So she lay there, staring up at the night sky and the bright stars.
Sometime later another set of hands picked her up, carrying her through a doorway into a room brightly lit with what seemed like thousands of candles. Off in the distance voices were chanting something in a language she didn’t know.
“Katiya?” When she didn’t answer Fiona cupped her face in both her hands, staring intently. “Katiya!” Slowly she focused on the red haired woman’s face. “The Caliph says that Warren and I can’t stay here with you for this. It might be a while before we can see you again.” Gently the older woman brushed back unruly red hair. “Remember Alexei. We’ll be here when you come back to us.”
Then she was gone and Katiya tried to call out, to ask her to come back, to tell her she was scared she didn’t want to die. But her voice failed her and she couldn’t move anymore, everything was cold.
“Katiya.” The Caliph helped her sit up. Behind him there were other people moving, she couldn’t make them out though they were just dark blurs against the light of the candles.
“You must choose. Your life is leaving you. Die now or become something else.”
Death was tempting. The cold would go away then and she’d see her father again.
But then she thought of Alexei, alone, exiled with a stake through her heart somewhere in the America’s. She remembered Fiona and the baby she was now carrying and Warren’s face as he tried to keep her entertained on the long train ride here.
Her voice didn’t want to work but the Caliph seemed to understand as he reached out of her line of sight and took up the cup. It looked like it had the first time she saw it, although now it was filled with dark liquid she knew was blood.
“Drink.” He said softly, raising it to her lips.
She thought of Alexei, of her beautiful blonde hair and how it had felt to lay with her in bed. The feel of her body warmed by the bath and blood pressed up urgently in passion against her own.
Then she opened her mouth taking in some of the dark liquid. The Caliph was saying something and the chanting was still going on but she heard none of it.
Darkness flowed from the dark liquid, coursing through her and she felt herself ripped apart from the inside. Katiya screamed or at least she thought she did. The screaming went on and on, her entire world was that never-ending scream.
Fiona stared out of the train car as they moved through the darkening afternoon light, night was coming and soon they'd be back in Russia. She was older now gray liberally sprinkled in her hair. So much was different then when they had last been here fleeing in the opposite direction.
War had come; the American vampires rising up in revolt. At first the world had held a shocked breath then moved into action. The war hadn't just stayed in America it had flared up around the world most not happy with the knowledge supernatural beings roamed among them. The Tsars of the Russian Empire had fallen many King and Queens had found themselves on the end of bitter battles, as the people they ruled were not happy with weak results in keeping them safe. Most royalty owed their souls to vampires or demons.
Oddly India and parts of Asia they had traveled to had been free of strife. There they accepted the unknown and supernatural creatures as part of their life philosophy. They had seen many wondrous things, her new family. It helped ease the ache of Alexei's being absent.
They had kept up with the news many elders in Europe had been overwhelmed and burned their households staked out in the sun. In America the battles were bloody, the Weres teaming up with the humans. She wasn't certain of the wisdom of that. Once done with the vampires, the humans she was sure would see their once allies as a threat.
Vampires had gone underground in Europe leaving their human puppets swinging in the wind to suffer a decade now gone an uneasy peace was stretching out over the land as the last of the fighting of the First great World War flared in America.
Fiona drew her attention away from the darkening window to her now willful 10 year-old daughter. "Yes, Allsun." The girl was going to have Warren's height and his blue eyes, but she had Fiona's fair skin even after so much time in the warm deserts and tropical climates they had lived in, and her red hair.
"May I go see to Katiya?" She gave her best puppy dog eyes the ones she knew worked on dad.
Fiona wasn't certain the wisdom of letting her daughter grow up in this world, she had no fear of the creatures she should instinctively fear.
"Please." She pleaded.
"Only if she's awake, if she's not you must not..."
"Wake her up or go near the bed." The young girl recited.
Fiona sighed "I should swat you're cheeky behind."
Allsun giggled and then scampered off with the gangly grace that most pre-teens lacked as their bodies started to change. But once all those changes were done, her daughter was going to be quite the looker, and Warren would be having fits with the boys that much she knew.
She went back to looking out the window, her mind wondering if there was anything left of Alexei's manor, they would certainly know in a few hours. She knew it was unlikely anyone had survived but that didn't stop hope that perhaps Stepan, Matvey, the Twins or even the grumpy Gregori had survived. So much lost and now they would see the truth of it and have a place to start their search for Alexei.
“Stay here Allsun.”
Katiya lifted the sleepy girl up off her lap and plopped her down onto the seat next to her father and mother. She looked around cautiously as she stepped outside. It wasn’t safe for them to be here, any of them.
"I'll be right back." Katiya opened the door and stepped out. Even though she'd known what to expect, it was hard to see the burned out shell of the manor. It had been almost ten years since she'd seen this place, but her memories of it were still clear.
Gingerly she picked her way through the crumbling entryway, hoping from one exposed beam to another, looking for anything that might have survived all this time. There wasn't much, a few books crumbling to dust piled in one corner.
It was cold the fall wind whipping through the trees had a taste of frost on its sting. And from the overgrown gardens that the forest was reclaiming came a mournful howl, which sounded like a wolf.
There were skeletons, human and at the base of the broken and burned stairs the bones of a tiger.
Katiya dropped the half burned book, her head jerking at the wolf howl. Was it possible that Vidar had survived somehow? The small piece of horn still was around her neck, on the same chain that held Alexei's signet ring.
She paused, seeing the tiger skeleton. Was it Kirill or Kira?
"Katiya?" Came a rasping voice sounding like rock grating against rock.
She whirled, looking for the source of the voice. Her hand sliding to the hilt of the sword that she never went without these days. “Yes?”
Lyov appeared looking as cracked and broken as the manor. He wobbled and blinked as if trying to see her. "It’s been so long, nobody comes, cursed.... cursed, only ghosts tread here." He babbled.
Ghost's indeed. Her fingers uncurled from the hilt, as she looked at Lyov and through parts of him. He was there and not there, fading back and forth from view. "Lyov." She had to leap over a hole in the floor, which she did much easier than she ever could have when human, landing gracefully on the other side.
"What happened?" Finally, after ten years, she could find out what happened here!
"Ah, girl it is you. If I was capable of crying I would." He reached out and patted her arm, seeming to grow more solid as he reassured himself she was really here.
"They fought bravely; even outnumbered they held against Karl and his horde. As daylight came Alexei revealed her skill of pushing past the limitations of sunrise and swung to cleave Karl's head from his neck, only it was a trick. A spell. He'd never been here only his shadow filled with his essence on his death it returned to Karl. But Alexei can't stave off the sun forever and while they slept his human pets stormed in. I tried to keep them out barred the windows and the doors. Gregori and the other humans and the tigers fought well but we were too few."
She'd known it went bad, but it was still hard for Katiya to hear. "What about Vidar?"
"Dead, all dead. Except for Alexei. They brought a steel coffin and sealed her inside and took her only the devil knows where."
"All dead?" Katiya's closed her eyes in pain. She'd hoped, that somehow, somewhere some of them could have lived through everything.
He nodded. "Please, when you leave, finish the job. I cannot take this. Burn me all to the ground so that I might finally rest. I'm so alone." He begged.
"No." She wouldn't be adding to the death here. "You're coming with me." How she could do that, she had no idea, but she'd figure out something.
"I don't know, maybe. If it doesn't work, please then do not leave me alone. Please." He looked hopeful an odd expression on his troll like face.
"If it doesn't work." She relented, a little.
"I want to check the forest and then we'll see what we can do for you." There wasn't much time. The instant they were done here they would go back to the train and head east, across the Alps and into France. From there they would take the ferry across the channel, stopping in London to gather things from Alexei’s lockbox and then passage on one of the grand steamers across the ocean to the America’s.
"Fair enough." He nodded looking around. "They took or destroyed everything, looking for a cup. So much history gone." He murmured.
There wasn't much she could say to that, so she simply patted his arm. "We'll get Alexei back Lyov." There wasn't much of a door left so she just ducked through it and out through the burnt out remains of the kitchen. The hot house was an empty skeleton of empty windowless frames. The sight made her sad and she hurried past the empty place to the tree line. "Vidar?" She called, hoping against reason that Lyov might have been wrong.
There were wolves denning on the estate now without any humans around they had grown bold, but even they sensed Katiya was a predator to respect and stay away from. Their golden eyes watched her through the trees.
A figure padded silently to the right mirroring Katiya.
The redhead moved through the trees, watching the shape flit through the forest. When she couldn't see the Manor anymore, she stopped, waiting to see what the figure would do, if it would come any closer.
It went still when Katiya went still. "Haven't you taken enough?" The voice rasped out. "You've already destroyed everything once now he sends more to find what he does not have."
The last word ended shivering into an animalistic growl.
Katiya watched, trying to figure out who it was. The voice sounded familiar, but she couldn't place it yet. "I didn't cause this. Karl did." She called back. The voice was scratchy with disuse.
A whip thin woman appeared out of the darkness, her once short hair long and tangled, her dark eyes haunted. She was gaunt a thick scar glared palely from her throat, where a sword had nearly severed her head from her neck but not quite.
"Alexei's gone." the woman rasped out. She paused and took a long look at the redhead in front of her. "You, I know you." Her lips pulled back in a warning growl uncertain if she was before a friend or foe.
"Niki?" Katiya took a step forwards, forcing herself to stop from going to close. "You remember me. It's Katiya, I was one of Alexei's pets." The woman looked like hell; the thin ragged clothes she was wearing were smeared with mud and other darker things.
"Ah the lover, Nada was so jealous of you." Her face slipped into a mask of sorrow as she mentioned her twin’s name. "She's gone, all gone." She might have cried but there was no extra moisture in her body to give.
"I'm sorry." Katiya glided closer, taking that brief moment of distraction to move. "What happened?"
She shook herself bringing to mind a dog that had gotten wet, and threw off the memories that threatened to drown her. She reached forward and touched Katiya's face. "Cold now, you're humanities fled buried in blood. Like me like the Mistress. She lives still, you know, or I would be dead too."
"I know." Katiya smiled a little, catching Niki's hand before she dropped it. "I'm still Katiya though. And I'm going to find her Niki. I'm going to bring Alexei back from wherever they sent her. Will you come with me?" She couldn't leave her here, like this, alone.
The wild vampire went still. "Yes, I'm not a good vampire; I’m not good without a pack. I do not like to be alone. Alexei would approve I think." She nodded as if decided and sank to her knees in front of Katiya. "I pledge my life and my loyalty to you."
"What are you doing?" Katiya stared down at the kneeling woman in surprise.
Niki looked up blinking. "Giving you my pledge." And waited expectantly.
"Your pledge." The Caliph had failed to mention anything about pledges. "Right." Katiya frowned a little. "What should I do next?"
Niki giggled, "We’re vampires, its all about blood. Give me your hand."
"Blood, of course." She offered the kneeling woman her left hand, a good idea of what would come next.
The vampire took Katiya's hand and bit Katiya's finger drawing just a taste of blood. It was strong almost making Niki reel and fall over; she hadn't expected it from one so young. It reminded her of Alexei's and she wondered if she had turned Katiya shortly before the Mistress had sent the pet away. "By giving me blood and I excepting shows that I accept your mastery and rule over me."
The woman stood clutching at Katiya for a moment. "I've been hiding and existing off of the blood of animals. Karl's given the town to a new child, called Ivan. He doesn't come here, nobody comes here. But I know better than to go into town. I did that once and they had a hunt for my head."
"Ivan?" Katiya's fangs bared. "He gave it to Ivan?" She thrummed with sudden rage. She wanted to go out and rip him apart and bathe in his blood. Instead she let out a slow breath, drawing on the decade of the Caliph's training. "We're going somewhere better."
"I will follow." The vampire said simply. She stared back into the forest where she had buried the bones of her sister, Matvey, Stepan, and Vidar. The hound’s grave remained covered in a layer of ice even in summer. "I buried them all and with each one my sanity disappeared, now you have come back and given me hope."
A tug on her hand and she pulled Niki to her feet, smiling at the grime covered woman.
"Help me figure out a way to get Lyov out of the house. We have to leave before it gets much closer to dawn." Now was not the time to deal with Ivan.
Someday though, she vowed, she'd settle her debts with him. First though, she had a family to take care of and Alexei to find.
London wasn't that different than the cities in Russia that they had left just a few days ago. The cold might not be as extreme, but the coal fire's that cloaked the sky and the factories that lined the wharves and docks were exactly the same. It might be dressed up a bit more, less obvious crime and more alert police, or Bobbies as they were apparently called, but to Katiya it felt similar at its core.
The bank wasn't normally open at night, but Alexei's name had guaranteed that the manager would wait for her with several of his clerks to attend to her needs. She'd had an idea what the lock box and bank notes would be worth, but it was impressive even so. There was more than enough there to get them settled in the new world, very comfortably settled, and to start the search for Alexei.
"Thank you Mr. Bancroft." The man smiled, shaking fawning over her hand as he said goodbye. She'd been amused to find that British men were as easily swayed by a young woman in a flattering dress as Russian men were. He'd been a little scared at first, obviously his first meeting with Alexei had not been a pleasant one, but she'd charmed him into relaxing.
"I could get you an escort Miss?" The gray haired man asked.
She smiled in amusement, quickly tempering it as she saw a hint of unease cross his face. "No, that won't be necessary. Thank you."
"Very well. I'm sorry to hear about Ms. Petrova, her family is long standing members. But now that the war has swept the Americas humans are finding a lot opportunity, please travel safely."
"Thank you, for everything. Please make sure that the funds are waiting for us with the Royal Bank's branch in Canada." She had no desire to travel in the United States if she could avoid it, considering the hints of news coming from there these days.
Stepping outside, she started down the street towards the private house she'd rented for her family to stay in. How odd to think of them that way, it still amused her.
"You look just as pretty as the day you left on that train." A voice said quietly out of the darkness.
Even though it should have worried her, Katiya was happy to hear that voice. "I worried you died getting us to that train." She stepped out of the street, lingering in the shadows nearby.
"It was close. Broke my leg in two places had to drag myself to the church to heal. Sorry I didn't manage to get back to help your vampire." Tereza limped out of the shadows a pistol clenched in one hand. She didn't really look older but there were more scars and her right leg hadn't healed right.
The redhead watched, well aware of who that pistol might be for. "Thank you. For everything you did. I don't think I got to tell you that before I made the train." The entire run to the train was a blur in her mind as the poison had burned its way through her body.
“I should kill you. It’s what I do, I am a hunter after all." She snorted in an amusement. "The world is full of fucking hunters now. The vampires had to go blow their super secret gothic broody we don't exist mantra."
"Karl." Katiya's lips twisted in fury. "And the other Elders." The war had burned through Europe already, but the America's were the new battleground. "So did you save me just to kill me now?" Katiya asked, standing still as only a vampire could.
Tereza stared at the gun then back up at Katiya. "I was going to kill you at first. But that was before I realized it was you. Now I don't know, seems like a waste, I did almost die for you."
Katiya's lips twitched. "Too bad I had to go and die after that anyway." She held out a hand for the hunter. "Lot's of vampires to hunt in the America's."
Tereza put the gun away, and laughed. "It’s a pisser though. I almost die for a girl and she's in love with someone else."
She reached out and with a limping step took Katiya's arm.
"The Caliph kept telling me that life's not fair." She slid an arm around the hunter's waist, surprised to find how light she felt.
“How did you find us?” She led the way towards the hotel.
"Not you I was looking for. I was assigned here after the fiasco in Russia. That pretty much was the start of the war. All the supernatural creatures came out of the woodwork once the Vampires revealed themselves in the United States. The church didn't need us so bad then. People suddenly found religion and a gun." Her and her fellow hunters had been slowly ignored or sent off to more and more dangerous assignments.
"Karl engineered the entire thing." Katiya grimaced. "The Caliph could tell me what was happening, but neither of us could figure out why he helped start the war." She glanced sideways at the hunter who was limping alongside her. "I would have come sooner, but I wasn't safe around others." Ten long years of learning to control and accept the darkness.
"The European vampires have been oddly quiet, there were some revolts early on and some cities burned. Not that I was there in the thick of things." She sighed in regret at what she'd missed. "But it wasn't all bad, a pretty little peasant girl nursed me back to health."
"That's all she did of course." Katiya teased, as they turned a corner onto a busier street. "Any news from the America's?" Everything she'd heard in India had been hopelessly out of date by the time the information had reached them.
"Well you know the Americans, once they came to term with the fact there were vampires, werewolves, and mummies... oh my. They became very unhappy that they were not top of the food chain and set upon righting that wrong. They have a deal with the shapeshifters, an alliance of sorts. And the vampires are losing ground. I suspect the war will wind down within the year."
That would make it over eleven years of a war unlike any other that the world had seen. Soldiers with rifles and the newer deadly machine guns fighting pets and humans allied to the vampires, while the vampires themselves terrorized the night. No wonder cities had burned.
"Will you come with me? We're going to Canada." As close as she could get, for now.
Tereza stiffened. "I won't be a pet. Some of my morals may have relaxed a bit, thanks to you, but I won't be a pet."
"Did I ask you to be my pet? I am allowed to have friends you know." She stopped, looking at her fully, seeing that familiar fire in the hunter’s eyes. "But friends don't stake friends."
Tereza chuckled, "You're no fun." But her hand stopped its move to her coat.
"I have things to do. Maybe after that I'll be fun again." She waited, watching the hunter as people moved around them on the dark streets. "Will you come or stay here?" It was a risk, bringing a hunter, but despite everything she liked Tereza. She owed her also, for getting her to the train station.
The hunter’s shoulders slumped. "You sure? I'm pretty much washed up as a hunter."
"Who says?" Katiya grinned, taking her hand and helping her down the street. "Just because you can't fight doesn't mean you aren't useful. You know how to hunt them, I don't. I need that knowledge Tereza. I need to know how to find Karl's spies and children and kill them."
"You do know you're a vampire?" Tereza said joking.
"Really? That explains the fangs." Katiya smiled, remembering to avoid baring her teeth. She sobered though as she kept talking.
"Karl got Alexei, staked her and then banished her to the America's. The Caliph's men found out what ship she was being loaded on, but the ship sank somewhere near the coast of Alaska. I'm going to find her Tereza, but Karl's going to try to stop me. It's going to be dangerous."
"Not really making your case, remember that Alexei and I hate each other." She chuckled. "Don't look like that. You know it’s true."
"Maybe." Katiya stopped again as they came to the front of the small luxury hotel that was there home while in London. "I still need your help though. You know she's better than Karl. I don't know what he's planned, but this war can't be all of it."
"Vampires worked best in secret, their world unknown. So I don't understand the war myself." She let go of Katiya's arm and walked around in a circle, thinking.
Katiya watched her, wondering why she was working so hard to get Tereza to agree to this. Fiona wouldn't agree, she was almost certain and Niki, well the woman was feral as it was. "But you know how to hunt vampires. That's something the Caliph didn't know how to teach me.”
"Well, vampires are actually rather weak. You have a lot of weaknesses, sunlight being the big one. Your kind is kind of squeamish about giving away secrets on destruction." She stopped moving and looked at Katiya.
"My kind." It still took a little getting used to, but Katiya nodded in acceptance.
She frowned, she didn't know why she was dragging feet, the church had all but thrown them away for the glut of new believers. "Fine." She nodded her face firm. "You have yourself a human servant. I won't give up my faith, or Sundays. I go to church."
"I don't really want a servant. I'll take a friend though." Katiya raised an eyebrow, hopeful. "Friend's get to do what they want." She wasn't Alexei; she couldn't handle things the way the tall blonde could, so she'd decided a while ago that she wasn't even going to try.
Tereza snorted. "You sure you’re a vampire?"
"I'm not Alexei." She met the hunter's eyes with her own, needing her to understand this. "She could demand obedience and enforce it. I can't." The sword at her side wasn't for show, but she was nowhere near as good as Alexei had been. "I have to have a different way."
The world was tipping on its head, but it had been doing that for a while now. The vampires breaking their code of secrecy had pushed the world into hyper drive and now governments all over the world were pushing the boundaries of what they had known and technology. If she didn't adapt didn't try to change herself, she was lost.
The hunter knew that. "Very well Katiya, you have yourself a friend and a hunter." Her mentor would be horrified, but she would continue this way to do the only thing she was good at in life. "I still will get to kill vampires, right?"
The redhead smiled a little, letting the tips of long fangs show. "Yes. Just not mine." That had to be a clear rule. "No one in the House develops a sudden stake in the heart problem. All right?"
"Well I can't promise that, but I promise not to stake them as long as they don't kill innocents and try to overthrow you. I won't be able not too if they attack some poor bumpkin on the side of the road."
That was, Katiya allowed, probably as much as she could ask for. "I have another favor to ask for then." She hesitated; studying the new lines that hadn't been there the last time she'd seen the hunter, the new weariness in those dark eyes. Who hesitated, then slightly shrugged her shoulders. "Maybe. There's..." She stopped, trying to think on how to explain. "Darkness. An urge?" No, both of them were wrong. "Hunger." That was closer. "The Caliph taught me how to avoid giving into it. But, sometimes..." She trailed off, eyes flicking to the pulse point in the hunter's neck. "It's hard. I need help." Fiona could do it, but Tereza was better suited to this task.
"Need help with what exactly?" Tereza's eyes became guarded and she resisted covering her throat.
"Keeping me here. Keeping me myself." She licked her lips. "And stopping me if I let the bloodlust take me."
Tereza nodded. "You seem like a much older vampire. I won't forget and I'll restrain you when it gets too much. But you have to let the others know I can do that. Or I will hurt them if they try to stop me."
"Deal." She held out her hand, offering a slightly challenging look to the hunter.
The hunter just smirked and took it. "Deal."
#### Epilogue ####
The man was sweating as he watched the red haired woman by the windows. She wasn’t that tall, barely coming to his shoulders, but she terrified him. It was the look in her eyes that had forced him into the chair, legs shaking and sweat dampening his shaved scalp.
“Mr. LaPierre, may I call you Marcus?”
With a start he realized she was actually waiting for an answer. At his shaky nod she smiled briefly. Her accent was odd, he’d thought she was Irish, but he’d been wrong about that. It sounded Russian he thought.
“I apologize for the unusual circumstances surrounding our meeting.”
He laughed. “Unusual? Lady, you’re…” he glanced to the other red head lurking in the corner and the amused look on her face. What were these two, sisters? “Friend there dragged me out of my boat in the dead of night!”
“Actually, I asked you to come with me first. Then I dragged you out of your boat house.” The one in the corner spoke up. She had the same accent he noticed.
“Alsun.” The first one sighed. “My apology for that. I asked Alsun to invite you for a meeting.”
“And I did.” The one called Alsun laughed, shoving off from the wall she’d been leaning against. If he wasn’t so terrified of them both, he would have been enjoying certain fantasies about the two of them.
“If there aren’t any other little errands for me tonight?”
The red head by the window smiled a little, and he tried really hard to not notice the slightly elongated fangs. “Go have fun. Don’t burn down the city.”
“Aw, you’re no fun.” Alsun laughed, picking up the dark leather jacket she’d been wearing when she’d kidnapped him out of his house.
After she’d gone, the first one walked over to a heavy crystal decanter. “I believe you enjoy whiskey? Straight?”
Automatically he took the offered cut crystal glass.
At his suspicious look at the amber liquid she laughed. It was a nice laugh he noticed, although the severe looking tailored suite she was wearing was definitely not what he liked his women in.
“It’s not poisoned. Rest assured that if I wanted to harm you I would not have brought you all the way here to do it.”
True enough and he really could use something to steady his nerves with. The whiskey was very good and he let out a little sound of appreciation.
She moved back over to the windows, overlooking the pacific ocean and the harbor below. It was an amazing view, the entire city of Vancouver spread out below, the streets alive with traffic and lights.
“You have a problem, Marcus. You’re family firm is almost bankrupt. In fact” She turned to look at him over her shoulder. “I know that the Royal Bank is going to force you into bankruptcy next week.”
“What? Those bastards told me they’d give me more time! We have another entire zone of sea bed to prospect in!”
“They lied.” She bared her teeth again in a smile. He really wished she would stop doing that.
“They can’t do this to me! Don’t they know who I am?”
She crossed over around the desk, the smile reduced to a faint grin. “I believe they know exactly who you are. They also know you are the head of one of the largest underwater salvage and oil exploration firms on the west coast. Your company will be worth a lot sold in pieces.”
He glared at her, but she dared him to disagree with any of her words.
“I’m offering you a chance to save your family business, Marcus.” She walked closer, still smiling faintly. “Make sure that son of yours can inherit the business from his father when you decide to retire.”
He looked at her like a dying man would a lifeline. Which wasn’t too far from the truth she allowed.
“What do you want?”
Gwyn leaned against her desk, happy that he wasn’t going to deny the way that things were anymore.
“I’m proposing a silent partnership. With my funds your company will become one of the largest underwater salvage firms in the world.”
“What’s in it for me?”
“Very astute of you Marcus. Of course I would require something in return.” She watched him speculatively, measuring him. Whatever it was that she was looking for he prayed that she found him worthy. He was uncomfortably certain that he knew what would happen to him if he failed her test.
She nodded finally and stood up again. “I need your company to look for something for me. It was dumped in the ocean a long time ago, somewhere off the coast.”
“Somewhere off the coast?” Marcus barked a laugh. “Lady I really hope you have more to go off of than that.”
“I’m under no illusion about how long it could take for you to find what I’m looking for. I can be patient.” She smiled again and his balls tried to crawl there way up into his body as she leaned forwards, making sure he saw her fangs. “But do not doubt what would happen to you and yours if you are not loyal.”
He swallowed, hard. There was still a choice to be made. He could tell her he wouldn’t accept. Maybe he’d even live through the experience. But the banks would take his family business apart, piece by piece to repay his debts.
“What do you want to find?”
That simple question bound him and his family to her. She let her lips cover her fangs again, although those blue eyes now danced with amusement.
“I know this is going to be horrible cliché, but I’m looking for a coffin.”
The End for now…