June 4, 2010

Artwork by Ana M Berry

He knew Elizabeth was expecting him, but as the sun fell lower in the sky Dain found himself sitting in his car, outside the Grieling's home going over the possibilities of the evening ahead. Trying to anticipate the actions and reactions of the evening in order to maneuver them to his advantage. He'd given himself a solid week to reaffirm his plans and his decisions and now it was time to follow through with them. He rubbed his brow, knowing that this would be his most tasking conquest yet.

Dain found talking to Mrs. Greiling to be almost as entertaining as talking to a walking corpse. She had a better complexion and smelled better of course, but other than that there was little difference between the two. Mr. Greiling was equally as uninteresting but with far more to say. He was a brute. A monster, filled with hate and cruelty and still breathing only at the request of his daughter.

Dain swallowed back his anger and revulsion and got out of the car. Tonight, he would be on his best behavior, he would be patient and jovial and he would not offend nor maim nor kill anyone. He would formally ask the worthless pile of excrement for Elizabeth's hand in marriage, knowing full well that he would give her to him under far less honorable circumstances simply for the connections to his money and his friends in high places. And then he would convince them that they must be married right away - within the week. And then he would take her away with him and they would never return.

He heard Elizabeth's voice, a whimper as he approached the front door. Instinct told him something was wrong. He didn't hesitate but yanked opened the front door and ran full out to her.

A second later would have been too late.

"The Devil shall have you!" Arthur Greiling growled, seconds before Dain burst through Elizabeth's bedroom door.

Arthur Greiling stood covered in sweat and soot with one foot on the bed, leaning over Elizabeth. He held a makeshift stake held high in his hands, ready to run her through. Elizabeth lay broken and bleeding on the bed, her face was turned away, she gasped, but did not scream.

Dain lunged at Arthur Greiling, ripping the stake from his hands. Arthur stumbled, turning to face his attacker. But he never got that far. Dain swung Arthur's ill-formed weapon, clubbing him on the side of the head. Arthur fell to the ground, moaning, and pleading for his life.

Elizabeth screamed as a spray of blood hit her. Her scream wavered for a moment, then stopped abruptly, sucking in two shallow breaths of air before her body fell slack and unconscious, onto the bed.

Dain reached down and grabbed Arthur Greiling by the neck, hoisting him to his feet, and pulling him close. "You don't deserve to live." Dain growled.

"You don't understand," Arthur pleaded. "She is in league with the monster we hunt!"

Sharp fangs descended in his mouth and in a blink his eyes became reflective. "I understand more than you can imagine." Dain said quietly.

Arthur gasped, choking on the breath he couldn't quite catch. "No..." he managed.

"I know what you've done." Dain ran a finger over Arthur's bloody face, "I've tasted your sins. If it were up to me I would kill you slowly carving away at you one slice at a time until nothing of you remains."

Arthur's eyes became wide. His face grew red.

"Know this, as you meet your fate in the darkness... I kill you quickly only to end her suffering."

Arthur went for one last breath of air, but he never got it. Dain snapped his neck and tossed his body to the floor. Then rounding the bed, he scooped Elizabeth into his arms and carried her from the room.

"What is this?" Mrs. Greiling called, rushing toward the Foyer. "What has happened? Where are you taking my daughter?"

"She is no longer your concern." He growled, accusing.

"Where is Arthur?" She squeaked.

"Your keeper is dead." Dain said, and pushed past her taking long, unwavering strides.

"Elizabeth—" she started – as if to stop him.

Dain tightened his grip on Elizabeth. Momentarily stopping at the door, he released her legs, but held firmly to her, pulling her body close to his. Holding her as effortlessly as if she were a rag doll.

"Enjoy your freedom." He cursed Mrs. Greiling then wrenched the door open with his free hand, nearly pulling it from its hinges.

Dain's driver, Marris immediately pulled open the door when he saw them. Dain turned and lifted Elizabeth effortlessly into the back of his 1920 Packard twin-six. Marris shut the door and hurried around to the driver's seat.

Elizabeth whimpered softly, still unconscious, but at least her bleeding seemed to have stopped. He held her close across his lap. He could not know the extent of her injuries, but she was alive, and that was all that mattered.

"As fast as you can, Marris." Dain ordered.

Marris was an aptly skilled driver, but even at top speeds, which could not possibly be achieved until they were out of the city, it would take time to reach the safety of his manor.

"Elizabeth," he whispered, willing her to open her eyes. He kissed her, but she did not respond. Her skin was cold, clammy, and pale. Her oblivion, he knew, was protecting her from the pain, pulling her further and further away from the physical. But how far would it take her? He could not bear the thought. He could not wait. He would not wait. He loved her. He could not even explain the depth of his love for her, or how it had come to be, but he knew with all that he was and no matter the consequences, he must have her; this uncommon girl. He plunged his descended incisors into the soft flesh of her neck injecting a pulse of warm, golden, venom.

Her blood in his mouth was rank, vile, repulsive. He pulled himself from her. This was wrong. Something was very, very, wrong. What could have turned her blood so sour?

She slowly opened her eyes to him, the corners of her mouth lifted, by just a fraction. "My love," she said.

Her rancid blood flowed relentlessly through his system. His stomach turned. Searing heat coursed through his veins. The pain was inexorable. He could feel his strength, as well as his awareness, beginning to fade. There was only one thing he was sure of at this moment, he had been poisoned – her blood was poison.


Chapter 23 - Broken Promises - Part One

Awareness came slowly creeping back. His senses were dull, and his body ached. It was reminiscent of the flu. He had a vague memory of having experienced a similar sensation, in his other lifetime, over seven hundred years ago. The room was dark. Dain was alone in his bed, naked. He had no memory of how he had gotten there. It made him feel uneasy, vulnerable.

His most recent memory was of Elizabeth - her life slipping, slowly, painfully away. He could not bear it. He had denied himself of love for far too long and could not bear the thought of losing it again.

"He is waking," came a lilting voice he knew at once belonged to Camille.

"Welcome back, my first." Argus sat in a high backed chair at the opposite side of the room. Pensive.

"How-?" he started to ask but stopped himself as he realized that he already knew the answer. Or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he knew no answer would be given, and he was right, Argus merely chuckled.

"Where is she?" Dain righted himself, the room was spinning, but then again, it might have been his head.

"She's sleeping." Camille offered.

"What happened? What's wrong with her blood?" Dain asked. If anyone could know the answer, surely it would have been Argus.

Argus eyed him for a moment. "It's difficult to say," he said. "But for now, it's not your concern."

"The hell it isn't."

Argus continued as though Dain had said nothing. "I've asked Camille to oversee things here for a while, at least until you've fully recovered. And then there is the matter of your... indiscretion we must attend to."

"Four hundred years ago, you told me I should pick a mate," Dain said, reaching for his pants. "You said I had the whole world to choose from. I picked her."

"And you believe she feels the same?"

Dain glared at him, un-answering.

"Walk with me."

Dain slipped his arms into his shirt, and stood. He hadn't felt this weak since he had been mortal. Even after having been drained of blood and tortured to a state of human death several times by the local immortality seekers. He steadied himself then followed Argus into the hallway and across to the opposite wing of the house, stopping at the furthest bedroom.

"Is she all right?" Dain asked.

"She has healed completely."

"Completely? How long has she been awake?"

"She recovered from her injuries within a week."

"A week?" The hallway swirled around him. He put his hand on the wall to steady himself. "Then how long-?"

"That was nearly a month ago." Argus said. "And look at you, even with my life coursing through your veins, you are weak."

"Yours?" Dain eyed him.

"I would think you'd be honored." Argus said, uninterested.

"Of course I am my Lord."

"I have no doubt that you would have recovered on your own, of course." Argus said, fiddling with a button on his jacket. "Consider it an act of selfishness on my part, or camaraderie if you'd prefer."

Dain was well aware of Argus's propensity to speak in riddles, but he had no interest at the moment. "I want to see her." Dain said just above a whisper.

"She hasn't asked to see you." Argus informed as he opened the door to the bedroom.

A slight figure lay curled around a pillow on the over-sized bed. Dain eyed her in the dim light, his senses taking her in, as he breathed in her familiar scent of lilacs and hyacinth. But there was something... different about her. She felt empty to him. It was much the same way he'd felt looking at the shell of his first wife, his beloved Katarina when he had found her laying lifeless in their bed. And yet, Elizabeth was quite clearly alive, her cheeks red and healthy, her chest slowly expanding with each breath.

"Consider carefully." Argus said just above a whisper. "Are you sure she is the one?"

Dain wasn't sure of anything at the moment, but he suspected that this was little more than a test. He nodded.

"Hmm." Argus looked at him curiously. "Then I will see that it happens. But first we must resolve this issue with her blood. I have someone working on it as we speak. She is young and there is time. For now, I have important matters overseas that I need you to attend to. Wake her, and tell her you must leave right away. Camille will stay and look after her, as she has been. And with that he turned and left.

Dain knew there was no point in arguing with Argus once his mind was made up. He crossed to the bed, and sat on its edge. "Elizabeth, my love."

Elizabeth stirred, her eyes flashing open, awake and alert; she leaped away from him across the bed.

Dain was puzzled by her response.

"Stay away," she said, keeping him in her sights as her eyes darted about the room.

"Elizabeth," he stood. "Why do you behave this way?"

"You are not the man I thought you were," she said. "You killed my father, and my mother."

"No." Dain corrected, "I left your mother unharmed."

"And yet she is dead." Elizabeth turned, taking hold of a candle holder from the bedside table. She held it in front of her like a weapon. "How many have you killed in your years?" she said slowly back away from him. "Do you even know how many? You're a murderer. And now you want to turn me into one too."

He clenched his teeth and took a breath before he turned to answer her. He tried to speak in an even measured tone, at least as much as his seething anger would allow. "Am I the monster now?"

She didn't answer.

"Your father submitted you to unspeakable horrors while he looked on. He bartered your hand in exchange for the life of your best friend, so that he could have his turn at an immortal. His goal was to become one, did you know? Imagine how powerful he would be then." He grimaced. "And as for your mother, she knew all of this. Every horrid detail of what he did to you, what he did to Iona, she knew and she did and said nothing. Is this truly who you choose to side with?"

Tears streamed from her eyes, and she shook her head. "No," she said as she cried. "But I will not stay with you," she said clutching her stomach, and sucking in deep breaths of air to contain her sobs. "Please, I cannot."

Dain moved to take a step toward her.

She shrieked, taking a step further away from him.

Dain breathed back his emotions, suppressing the pain of her actions, of her words. "I do not understand," He said. "Where is the woman that I love? The woman I believed loved me in return?"

Elizabeth just shook her head.

"I will stay away from you for the rest of your life if that is what you wish." He hoped for even the slightest moment of hesitation on her part but there was none.

"It is," she said softly yet determined.

The crushing ache in his heart was almost more than he could bear. "Very well." He said after a long moment. "I am leaving shortly," he informed, composing himself. "Before dawn. Please, stay here as long as you like, my staff will continue to take care of anything you need. I will not set foot in this house while you are here, and you will never see nor hear from me again." He waited catching his breath, desperately hoping for a response. But there was none.

"Goodbye, Elizabeth." The words fell through his thoughts like a dagger, cutting its way to his broken heart, and plunging itself deep within his tortured and interminably lonely soul. With that he turned and left, resisting the urge to turn back and look at her one last time as he pulled the door closed behind him.

Argus stood waiting at the top of the stairs.

"Did you know?" Dain asked.

"Yes. Though only God could know her reasons why."

"And her mother?"

"Lose ends." Argus turned and started down the steps. "I'll have Marris bring the car around."


Chapter 22 - Broken Promises - Part Two

Artwork by Ana M Berry

(c) copyright 2010-2016 Lauren T. Hart