The mountains seem to devour the sun as it sinks. A brilliant outburst of color appears, as the sun reaches for protection from its inevitable fate. No help is given, and it hopelessly sinks, disappearing as it is captured by the looming mountains. Its long arms have left some light, enough to allow me to turn from the window and see clearly into the unlit room. My vision, more acute than a humans, is unhindered by my mirrored sunglasses. It is now that Taryne awakens, just like the night before, and all the nights before that since he became the Vampori leader. I can see that his color has returned from the previous nights deathly pallor. I shiver, knowing the horrible reason that he looks so much better. I turn from him, and continue to watch the fading dusk.
It is not my acute vision, but my powers that allow me to see him rise and come to my side, as he is behind me. Even his royal blood cannot hide from me, my abilities. I am a Hunter, the Panther, who stalks her prey while they stalk their own. I hunt the Nosferato, an even darker breed of Vampire. Those who are bound by no laws. Who feed on whoever whenever they please. They are the lawless, bound to no dimension, and that is why I hunt them. The Nosferato constantly try to invade the Human Realm, seeking prey. I was raised and trained to prevent that from occurring, and have been protecting humans for centuries.
I raise my glass to my lips. The glass is of a most remarkable design. It is a black frosted glass, with an etching of silver. It is a panther, crouching, preparing to attack. The panthers eyes are amethysts, and are darker than my own.
I have not allowed anyone save Taryne to see my eyes in many years. The last Vampori to gaze into them was my father, Gyzanth; The last human, Taryne, when he was human. I wear sunglasses whenever I am awake, day or night. My eyes are such a luminous shade of violet that they seem to glow in complete darkness. It is a trait shared by all those of the Royal Blood, and I am the only human member left. It is a trait that makes me easily recognizable, which is why I wear the sunglasses. Humans, as ignorant as they are, can sometimes create useful things.
My lips part as the sweet wine hits them, and I tilt my head back as its coolness slides smoothly down my throat. Still turned away from him, I pull his glass off the shelf beside me. The drink I pour Taryne is from a different bottle. The liquid has a much darker hue. His glass is similar to my own, except that his has a wolf with bared teeth etched on it in gold. Slowly I turn, and hand him the glass.
An added benefit of my sunglasses is that no one can see the emotions that my eyes hold. It is neither lust nor contempt in my eyes now, but appraisal. I look him up and down, going slowly, memorizing every detail. He is handsome, I cannot deny that obvious fact. He has a dark tan, which is unusual for his kind. However, he is a Royal, and his abilities are greater than those underneath him. He can actually rise before the sun sets, when in his prime, usually after...feeding. His hair is blonde with chunks of chestnut and does not quite reach to his shoulders. He is about three inches taller than I, which makes him seem like a giant. I am six-foot-three.
His eyes are as luminous as mine, but his contain the same wild fire as the emerald eyes of the wolf, like the one on his glass. I sometimes cannot draw myself away from his eyes. They are wildly hypnotic, and they give rare insight into his seemingly dark, solemn personality. His eyes never leave mine as he drinks. It is almost as if Taryne knows I am watching him. Then his beautiful eyes close as he cleanly finishes off the remainder of the drink. I watch his throat, as it pulses with every swallow. His vulnerability is amazing to me. How such a leader could allow me, a mere woman, to affect him so greatly. His trust towards me is frightening. I am not worthy of his trust. How can he give it away so freely? Taryne thinks that we should be together, I know. I can not love him, he knows this. If I could...
I turn away from him again, sharply inhaling as my senses return to me. I know my thoughts are pure insanity. I refuse to allow myself to be seduced by him. Perhaps that is too strong a word. Still, there is no other way to describe it. Perhaps I hold Taryne too highly, holding to the memories instead of facing reality. In my mind, he is still the youth who was always beside me during my years of training, and the man I had once had feelings for. Still have feelings for. I cannot call it love, for I distrust him too much. A bit of a paradox. Although I feel this way, I want no part of the path he has chosen. I only Hunt. It is the life, the path I have chosen.
I shut my eyes as I face the familiar war between my heart and my mind. I sometimes wish I could just end it all. Yet I know that is not the way to do it. My mind is not as weak as a normal humans; I refuse to yield to the foolishness of suicide. Taryne is too close to me. I am positive that he hears my gasp and sees my tears as I turn around and flee out the door, as if an unseen predator is pursuing me. Finally, I am outside, in the fresh, crisp night breeze. I inhale deeply and slip away from reality.
I close my eyes as I hear her cry of pain. I do not understand why Rana is so cold, so distant. That is not her true personality. She is an excellent actor, and her powers only increase her effectiveness. She has not been herself for the past month. She changed when I became the leader of the Vampori. I cannot change the past, although I might change what I did if I had known that so severe a separation would have been the effect of it.
It was 1710 when we first met. A different time. A lost time. My father's kingdom had been destroyed. I was sent to the Citadel. It is where the children of Kings and such learn to take up arms. Most importantly, it was a sanctuary. And without realizing it, we both needed a shelter. Me from the war raging in my homeland, Rana from the war raging inside her heart. A war that still is raging inside her.
She was the first girl to go there, if I remember correctly. She was distant from the others, as if she had a secret and was afraid she might let it slip. Her removal from us intrigued me. Even then she was amazing. She stood up to our Teacher many times, when the rest of us were too timid to do so. So I was incredibly startled when I found her one night, staring off into the darkness, with no cloak in the near-freezing temperatures. I did not say anything. I simply sat myself down behind her, wrapping my arms around her waist and my cape around her frigid body. Rana sat there, still, not blinking, barely breathing. She finally leaned against my chest and before falling asleep in my arms, promised that she would never desert me, because I had stayed with her.
I never found out why she was like that until many years later. She had just recently learned about her ability to transform, and the knowledge disturbed her. Instead of turning into the panther when her emotions were uncontrollable, she would instead almost shrink inside herself, preventing herself from affecting or being affected by the world she was in.
Ever since that night, we were inseparable. That was one of the few times Rana had ever seemed defenseless, unprotected, unshielded from the world she always tried to distance herself from. I feel a single, solitary tear of rosy darkness slowly slip down my cheek. I love her. She loves me. If she did not, I would be man enough to turn away. Still, I know she loves me, otherwise she would not still be here. Her distrust of me is painful, beyond the most creative imagination. It tears at my heart, and claws at my soul. If she would let me love her, then maybe she would understand she does not have to be alone.
At the Citadel, it was different. I sometimes wish we could return to those days. In our training, we always stood together, back-to-back, ready to challenge anyone and everyone, the world itself if it was in our interests. There was only one time when we did not fight together, and that was the Combat of Masters, when she conquered our teacher and was given the Obsidian Sword. That sword almost seemed to belong in her hand. After passing that final test, we reluctantly parted.
I will remember that day for an eternity...
"You have to go. Your country was wrongfully taken from you. Will you let thousands of people die because of your foolishness?" Even as Rana told me to go, her eyes were filled with the torturous look of longing. Damn her violet eyes.
"Is it so foolish to love you? Am I so wrong? I cannot save them from an inevitable fate. My kingdom is gone. I must find a new way."
She turned away from me, the first time she had ever refused to meet my gaze. This was a time before she hid her eyes from the world with those damned glasses of hers. "Yes, you are wrong. First, you do not love me. That word is meaningless to the both of us. I have been trained to kill, not love. Lust is the word which most probably fits the description of how you feel towards of me. In your land, or in another's, you will find another to please you. Furthermore, no woman is worth your country, whether it has been taken or not. Will you give up on them? I cannot, will not love you in return!"
She said it so forcefully, trying to make herself believe it while trying to make me do the same. At first it felt as if someone had stabbed me with a hooked knife, and was ripping my insides as they pulled it out of my chest. It was then that I realized Rana would not look at me.
"If you want me to believe that, then I will."
"Then do so, and save the ones that will still follow you." I could hear both anguish and relief in her voice.
"When you say it to my face."
She turned in shock and literally gaped at me. For once in my human life, I was able to stare her down.
She turned from me again. When she spoke, she used her powers to implant a picture in my mind. An image I knew all too well. "I see a child who is crying for her mother. Only her mother is in a dungeon," her voice changed, full of anger. "Being raped by the same soldiers who destroyed your kingdom."
"Stop," I feverishly replied, trying to rub the image away with the palms of my hands. I did not want to remember the images I had seen.
"Save her. Save that child. Even if you cannot save them, try. I am a Hunter, solitary, alone. You are not. You are a leader, but your fatuous obsession prevents you from leading anyone. Find another woman to share your bed." She almost had tears in her eyes.
"There are many women that could share my bed, but there is only one you." Then I used my secret weapon, my last resort to keep her with me. "Oath breaker. You promised never to leave me." That got her attention. She snapped around, eyes blazing. I had intentionally hit one of Rana's few weak spots by questioning her honor.
"I do not break my promises, although that one was not sealed when I made it to you. Are you that desperate to question my honor?" Her tone turned to one of exhaustion. "I will not allow our last words to be in anger. I must go. I can only make you this one promise, and it includes the old one. I have taught you elementary things, such as mind reading and simple relocation. You have the ability to find me with your mind. You know that I will answer you. Call to me, and I will come."
"Seal the bargain." I responded.
She took her newly won sword and thrust it into the earth. With one hand on the hilt, she held out her other arm in a warrior's truce. I gripped her arm and pulled her toward me. My hand other hand clasped over hers, and I held her firmly there. "With a kiss." I said, and we pressed our lips and bodies to each other for an eternity, it seemed. I yearned to stay with Rana forever, just as we were, our lips sealing a promise that would last for centuries. Then she slowly pulled away from me, and left, like a shadow disappearing in the fading dusk.
I slowly return to reality. This horrible reality. I look towards the window and whisper her name.
I stare in to the dark abyss. The wind calls my name. I hear its sigh of longing. And so I return to human form. I realize that it was not the wind, but Taryne calling my name. I begin to walk back towards the castle. Dysor has found me. Queen Alyssira's soldiers jokingly refer to him as my four-legged husband, since he is the only living creature to share my bed. He is a monster, three-foot tall and at least eighty pounds. Taryne gave him to me at the Citadel, a place where long ago we were companions. Dysor is still my puppy, although he is at least three hundred years old. It is not my magic that keeps him alive, it is something else that I cannot recognize. I am thankful for it, because he is my companion. He should not be here. I should not be here. I ask myself the one question that I do not completely know the answer to. Why did I return? Because of a child...or Taryne?
I stood before Queen Alyssira II. She was then 28, the Human year 3280. In the Dark Realm, 2012. Years in the Dark Realm are much longer than human years. In the Dark Realm, I am three hundred fourteen. In the Human Realm, much, much older.
Her grandmother, named Alyssira I, was kidnapped by the Nosferato when she was 6, a sacrifice to their leader. I entered their dark Realm, rescued her, and returned to the Human dimension. There was a bounty Hunter, called the Panther, that tried to take Alyssira I back to the Nosferato. He was called so because of his weapon of choice, three silver-cast panther claws welded onto a bar that slipped on four fingers. That battle was greater than any testing I had at the Citadel. That battle was the creation of my identity. I have used my magic to diminish any scars that I have won. However, I keep the one he gave me, the three claws that he raked across my back, to remind myself that I am now the Panther.
Yet that is not the entire truth. I am the Panther for a different reason. I can slip away from reality, and transform into an actual panther. The only problem with this is that I change when I cannot control my darker feelings, whether they are anger or sadness. I was told by a prophetess, moments before she died, that I could destroy the world. If I was allowed to use my powers while in uncontrollable anger, I could unseal the barrier between the Human and Dark Realms. Both realms are protected from my emotions when I transform. That is the true reason why I am the Panther.
Alyssira II respectfully bowed towards me; I nodded in return. I do not bow before nobility. I have no humility towards them. Then she told me of a mother's worst nightmare. Her child had been kidnapped, this time not by the Nosferato, but the Vampori. Although human, she knew of the Dark Realm. The stories had passed from her grandmother to her mother, and now to her. The knowledge came with a promise, one I made Alyssira I's mother make many years ago.
Human knowledge of the Dark Realm was dangerous, because of the fear and panic that would result. Alyssira II knew that if anyone else knew of the Dark Realm, I would not help her. So she had guards scouring the countryside, while she contacted me. She asked me to rescue her child, Bryna, just as I rescued her grandmother. I had no choice but to accept. My father's people had kidnapped this child, and I was extremely shocked. I had to know why. My fool curiosity.
Alone, I entered the Dark Realm again. It is an alternative dimension, separate from the Human Realm. It is what keeps humans and their ignorance from discovering us. Us. That is unusual for me to say. So often I am alone. That is no ones fault but my own, and I will continue to keep it that way. I am not one of the Vampori. My father was, which is why I am considered the heir of his dark kingdom. It is rather amusing, actually, that I was trained to kill the Vampori, and, in a way, am one myself...
"This is the test." Kyole said passionately, bloodlust in his eyes.
"I have been tested before, and passed easily. I have killed kings for my own amusement, and saved a princess from the claws of the Nosferato. Do you truly think I'm nervous? I am more greatly challenged when I get out of bed every morning." I replied sarcastically, becoming tired of his immaturity. He stared at me in shock, the first time I had ever told him of my fame. Little bastard. "Unless there is a vampire behind me, do not stare at me, or I will add you to the list of gravestones I have contributed to. Now let's go."
We entered the castle Learwind, and found it seemingly empty. This was the castle of the Vampori leader, and we knew he should have been alone. Even I, with my powers, could not sense him anywhere. We decided to split, him taking the lower level and dungeons, and I taking the higher chambers. As soon as I stepped into the Master Chamber, I knew he was there. It was too late to disguise my magic or myself.. He knew I was there. He appeared before me, a shimmer in the poorly lit room. He was tall and had a stately, dignified stature, which was heightened by his graying temples. He was not going to kill me... yet. I could sense his curiosity, but I could not understand what aroused it.
"Have you come to kill me?" He asked, in a clear but deep voice.
"Only if you will let me." I replied in a serious tone, but with laughter in my eyes. I knew a light humor was my only chance to make it out of Learwind in one whole piece. He smiled in return. "Are you the leader of the Vampori, the one they call Gyzanth?"
He looked at me even more curiously.
"You are the first one to pronounce my name correctly in many years. Have you by chance come across it before?" I nodded in reply. His name was the same as my father's, before he died. "And what is your name, you who so fearlessly stand before me?"
"I am the Panther, but you may call me Rana." His look of curiosity turned to one of awe.
"That is impossible. You.. should not exist!"
"Are you sane? I stand before you in flesh and blood. Whom have you mistaken me for?"
"Remove your glasses," he commanded.
My glasses had not come off for any man in almost two hundred years, and I would not have obeyed him, except that I knew him. I did not know how, but I knew him. It was a feeling of deja vu or perhaps simple paranoia, but I knew that man. I removed my glasses and gazed upon him.
"My child..." It was I that looked at him in shock now.
"My father is dead. He died..." he cut me off.
"At the hands of the Nosferato." He looked at me with such certainty that I believed him. "It was a fabrication that your mother came up with, so you would not know what I am. She raised you to hunt me. How fitting."
My eyes blazed with violet fire. "I raised myself. Orphans learn quickly, especially about fighting." If this man was my father, he had years, no, lifetimes to answer for.
"I am sorry I could not be there. If I had known she was gone, I would have gotten you. I did not think you would survive. You are a human with Royal powers, as well as your mother's. She was a sorceress, you know." His eyes became unfocused, as if he was recalling a fond but distant memory.
"And now she is dead," I replied, making sure he understood that the last thing I felt for my mother was love.
"When?" Gyzanth asked, his eyes slightly clouding. The peculiarities of love.
"When I was seven."
"And now she is dead," He repeated, almost as if he did not believe it.
"Which is what you are about to become, you Vampori bastard," came Kyole's voice from behind me. "Rana, kill him."
"No, Kyole. Leave him. He is worthless." I replied.
"If you will not, then I will, you cowardly bitch."
Kyole leaped at him, sword in hand. I pulled my own and whirled, catching him in the stomach. As I pulled away he doubled over and collapsed on the floor, blood gushing from his wound.
"And that's just for calling me a cowardly bitch," I said, and thrust the dark, keen blade deep into his chest. His eyes lost their lifelight, and I did not realize I was smiling until his arm slid slowly to the floor. I turned to Gyzanth. "Leave. My companions will find you, and I even I can be outnumbered." I flashed a quick smile, and nodded goodbye toward him.
He turned to look at me one last time, and disappeared into the darkness. Only a whisper of his voice remained.
"You are my child, and you will be the one to destroy the Nosferato. It is your destiny," the voice whispered, and was gone just as quickly as he was.
After that, I would no longer hunt the Vampori. However, the bloodlust was still in me. I was still a Hunter, but I needed new prey. So I found it, in the Nosferato. They are different from the Vampori because they have no laws to bind them to the Dark Realm. They have more than once traveled to the Human Realm to find victims. That is how I am able to kill so many. The wall between the Human and Dark Realm is only six feet. No magic can be used there. The Nosferato have only a few seconds to pass through. Just as the sun sets in the human world, the sun rises in the Dark Realm. Also, if one was to stay in the wall for more than five minutes, he would be crushed. So I enter the wall while it is still light in the Human Realm, and kill as many Nosferato as I can. They cannot cross, and if my Obsidian Sword does not kill them, then the sunlight would.
I see Castle Learwind ahead. My thoughts made unaware of where I was. Learwind has not changed in the one hundred years since I last saw it. It holds many of my memories. Tonight, we will plan the attack against the Nosferato, the bastards that really did kill my father, only one month ago. There will be hell to pay!
I sense Rana as she returns. I hear her progress up the stairway and to her chambers. In about an hour I will go to her, and our plans will begin. We shall avenge Gyzanth's death. It is beyond me how a simple plan to make Rana return to the Dark Realm became a war. Then again, she has always been one to attract attention. Rana is different. Her skills at fighting are unmatched by any save myself, and I really do not want to find out which of us is better. The most beautiful quality she has, though, is that whether choosing friends or gaining enemies, she does not discriminate against anyone. And, she has a weakness for puppies. Like Dysor, the wolf pup I found at the Citadel and gave to her. I somehow knew that they were supposed to be together. That thing, that mystical wolf-dog, is never far away from her, but sometimes it seems as if he appears from nowhere.
My men have returned from the Wall. They have killed sixteen Nosferato. They tell me the gruesome details of it, then in a quiet, fearful voice, the leader of the small band mumbles and inquires where Lady Rana is, because they think she will like to hear the story. Then they hurriedly say that they do not mean to offend me in any way. I cannot help laughing, which I think frightened them even more. I tell them she is in her chamber, and probably busy at the moment. They will see her soon. They leave, searching for others to tell their tale to.
I did not realize they thought that mention of her would offend me. I sit and ponder that for a few moments, and realize that I should go rouse Rana from her chamber. I walk to her door, the one closest to my own, and knock gently. I hear the familiar click of her powers unlocking the door, and so I step inside. I am both shocked and confused when Dysor's golden eyes meet mine. Rana is asleep, lying crookedly, with her head at the foot of the bed, and all the furs on the floor beside her. One tan, slender, yet muscular arm is wrapped around Dysor's neck. Which means Dysor opened the door.
How could a wolf, a dog... it is beyond me, I realize. I walk over to Rana, to wake her, and I hear his low, pulsating, authoritative growl. I slowly back away, and watch with astonishment. He licks Rana on the cheek, awakening her from her slumber. My enchantress awakens, and her eyes spark as she opens them. She looks at me and her eyes widen slightly, as she leaves her fantasy world and returns to reality.
She rises, saying nothing, putting her glasses on a soon as she realizes I can actually see her violet flame, and walks out. I follow her to the war room, where my soldiers have gathered. Upon entry, she is bombarded with the account of the Nosferato attacks, and now the story is exaggerated from sixteen to forty deaths.
She just smiles, shaking that beautiful head of hers, and pulls herself up onto the map table. She is handed refreshment, which she quickly consumes. She is given another, which she sets down beside her. Dysor has somehow appeared at her feet. She turns to me. I know that is my cue, and I begin.
"The only way to avenge Gyzanth's death is to kill those responsible and finish what he started, complete annihilation of the Nosferato. There are two main ways to accomplish this. One, we do it little by little, killing them when they cross over, such as tonight. Or, we find an opportunity, a way to kill them all at once."
Many people mumble at the absurdity of that option. One of the guards speaks up.
"My lord, that is almost sheer impossibility. There has never been a time when they have all been together. They only constant thing in their lives is their leader, Heaygon."
"Then there is the obvious course of action," Rana replies, her voice holding a note of mystery. All eyes turn upon her, and she makes sure she has everyone's attention before continuing.
"Obviously, this will be a bit difficult. Heaygon has not been seen in a good one hundred fifty years. Most of the Vampori probably do not know what he looks like. And those that do are dead. He can disguise himself into a thousand different images, and no one here would know. Excluding myself. Half of you here cannot even identify a Nosferato, much less their leader." She is not exactly optimistic, but she has a valid point.
"Are you saying it's hopeless?" The guard replies. Rana springs to her feet, and stands before him, at least an entire foots advantage over the guard. He watches in discomfort and apprehension, until her frown becomes a smile, and she turns from him.
"There is hope, if you choose to believe in it." That is directed towards me, I am sure. "However, for those of us more realistic, I was simply pointing out the fact that we cannot go charging in like we are blind with anger and destroy every Nosferato in our way. There must be precision, an exactness to this plan so that nothing short of the Wall disintegrating could destroy it. Now, how do you think that we can do it?" I am not wasting my time here to listen to the strategy of children playing Capture the Flag. I am here to avenge my fathers death! Now, help me accomplish my goal."
Cheers and applause thunder the hall. She is an excellent dramatist, and it shows. Strategies start to pour in from everyone, ranging from plausible to pure insanity. Rana's opinions also range, from a nod to an arched eyebrow at some of the more ludicrous ideas. Ten minutes later, she has an idea of her own.
"The best way to kill the Nosferato is to kill the core, the center of their existence. To kill their leader would be to kill them, for his death would kill them as well. That is apparent. The way to do this is not to hunt him, but to lure him, like a starving animal to a place where we will have the advantage. There, we destroy him, and from there, demand the conformation from Nosferato to Vampori. If they do not accept, we send them to hell along with Heaygon." She turns, daring anyone to challenge her idea. One man, a young lieutenant that evidently wanted to die at an early age, speaks up.
"It's much easier to lure a starving animal than an ageless monster. Just how do you propose to do it?" Rana turns and glares at him, until he finally turns away, refusing to meet her mirrored gaze. Glasses or no, no one can stare her down when she is angry. One can feel her gaze piercing through them. It is an amazing talent I covet, often wanting her to know what it feels like.
"You bait an animal with prey. Compromise." She has that secretive, almost seductive smile on her face again. "Hmm... Nosferato want blood, preferably human. So we find a seemingly young, somewhat attractive woman that can disguise herself as well as her powers to pretend she wants to become his next meal." My eyes widen and then harden as realization sunk in. Give herself to Heaygon? The thought is preposterous, beyond mortal sanity. She suddenly turns toward me.
"It is beyond mortal sanity, but you forget, I am not mortal." I can actually see Rana's look is pure cold, freezing me, locking my eyes with hers. "I can do this with or without you. If you think you have the authority to control me, you best try to enforce it now. Impress me," she mocks. "Show me just how well you can handle my rebellion. Are you going to kill me, Taryne? Gut me like a traitor and feast on my blood? Or will you let my anger rage, and do nothing as I kill your people, in the all too familiar way your human subjects were killed when you were a child? What will you do, Taryne? Absolutely nothing, because you love me." Although her tone is one of disgust, she turns from me, her eyes refusing to meet mine.
I slowly become aware of the fact that she was speaking to my mind. Even she knows that personal matters are not to be brought up in front of insubordinates. She continues this assault of thoughts, mockery and anger in her voice. "This is the price you pay. Every time you think of me I know it. It is the link that we will always have. Damn it, Taryne, your love for me affects your ability to lead! Let go, so that you may be a true king for your people. My father's people."
"Your people," I retort, familiar with this conversation. "And your people have a king. They need a queen, or how else can they be united against the Nosferato? They whisper your name for fear of my anger. These people are affected by our distance from each other, not because of my love, my longing! If you want me to let you be, then accept the challenge of long ago. Say how you feel to my face, and it will be done." Her wall is starting to crumble.
Our conversation is paused as I actually speak aloud and dismiss the war party. They have not noticed anything amiss. Rana leaves with them, and I follow her. She walks into my chamber and I shut the door. She has removed her glasses, and I am almost sorry she has. The pain I see, I feel as though I have wounded her. Her eyes glisten from the suspended tears, waiting to fall, to caress her cheek in consolation. She turns from me, speaking aloud to me for the first time.
"Where did this interesting conversation leave off?" Rana asks sarcastically aloud, trying to dissuade me from the obvious point of this conversation, this debate that has lasted for centuries.
"Forgive me Rana. Let me refresh your memory." Now my voice is the one full of sarcasm. "Say how you feel, tell me of your distaste." My voice rises not with my anger, but with my fear she could face my challenge. "Tell me that you do not love me, and my interest in you will only be because of our shared concern in avenging your fathers death. Impress me, Rana. It is just a simple sentence. 'I do not love you'. Just make sure you look at me when you say them." Rana truly does impress me. She does not look away. Her eyes alight with her own passionate fire as she speaks.
"I...," Her pause is not from the dramatist in her, but is her way of controlling her emotions. "...do love you. Are you so happy to know the truth? Did you ever really deny it? Do you think I would still be here avenging the father I never knew if it was not for you? Of course I love you." She is shouting, angry for admitting her true feelings. "Nothing can or will become of it, though. I am a Hunter, forever alone. When we exterminate the Nosferato, who will be left to hunt? My love for you prevents me from hunting your people. And the majority of humans are too innocent, too ignorant to be preyed upon. My life will be over, meaningless, a lost rebel soul without a cause. What kind of life, what kind of queen will that make? One worthy of the love that even now your people express to me? One worthy of your touch, your kiss, your embrace? No."
"Yes," I retort. "Only one woman is worthy of all these things, and that is you. Rana, why do you deny the two of us the love we could have? What is it that you fear?" I have finally stumbled upon the one thing that has kept us apart for so many centuries.
"I am afraid to become what you are. Regardless of my father, I am not Vampori. I am not one of the Vampori and you could not understand." Then, replacing her glasses, she turns and leaves, using the secret passage that connects her chamber to mine, found beside the bookshelf of my library. Using my powers, I see her silent tears, hear her whisper goodnight to Dysor. After a time, Rana lies down and falls to sleep. I use my powers to attempt and read her dreams. I know only that she dreams of her battle against Raydor, that occurred about a month ago.
I can feel the suns stealth approach. I turn to my bed, and think of my enchantress, as well as of what I can do to remedy her unknown fear. Eventually I dream, and of who else but Rana?
Hounds... I ran faster through the thick forest. I could see the Wall ahead. I have to stay. I turned to Bryna, and urgently, yet sternly, told her she must go without me.
"There is the wall, Bryna. Go now." She turned to me, with a look of betrayal and confusion.
"Rana, I cannot leave you! They will hurt you! Come on, we can both make it!"
"We can, but I have to stay. Take this with you," I added, trying to divert her attention. I handed her the amulet that the prophetess gave me before her death, a simple token to remember her words by. "Now go. The amulet will protect you as well as I can. Go!" I shouted, gently pushing her back through the Wall. I sensed the moment when she reaches the Human Realm, and sighed with relief. Alyssira's Guards would find her soon.
I whirled, drawing my sword. The dogs had found me. I massacred them with a mere thought. Then I saw the Vampori through the trees, shadows of darkness. I sensed nine of them, and a human rider. I braced myself for the attack, my stance out of instinct from my years of training. My hand curled around the hilt of my sword, it as dark as my heart. I wanted to shed the blood of the bastards that had taken Bryna, an innocent child, hostage. I wanted to see their blood soak the ground, and I was not ashamed of admitting it.
"Cease, Rana, we will not harm you," came a voice from the forest. An all too familiar voice. Taryne? How...why...what? I saw him through the dense thicket. The Vampori guards were following him. My anger was apparent, my eyes flashing the violet fire that so many had come to fear. I made sure he could see it, using my talents to show him what he had to face.
He was gauging the distance between the Wall and me, watching me with caution. He dismounted, and held his hands outstretched in peace.
"Come with us, Rana. The child is safe. She was not harmed, she was nothing more than a diversion. You need to see your father."
Now I was beyond mere anger. I felt my restraint slip. However, I did not want the guards to know of my transformation abilities, so I slowly controlled myself. I needed to release my growing fury. I walked up to Taryne, and hit him as hard as I could. I connected to his jaw and sent him reeling backwards. His guards prepared to restrain me, but he halted them with a simple gesture. He rose up on his elbows, shaking his head. No doubt he lost his sight for a few moments. I almost hoped I had broken his jaw, and then I remembered that he was Taryne, once my closest companion.
"Was that it?" He asked, wiping the blood away from his mouth, where he had bitten his lower lip from the shock.
"For now," I replied coldly. I mounted his horse, and rode to Learwind, never looking behind me to see if he followed.
As I rode, I contemplated his words. Why kidnap a frightened, innocent child just to make me return? He knew there was an alternative way to do so. Why was he here, anyway? I pushed these thoughts out of my mind as the castle came into view. I located my father with my powers, and went inside. Surprisingly, the guards moved out of my way and saluted as I passed. I entered the Master Chamber, and saw Gyzanth. His noble stature had not changed in the one hundred seventeen years since I saw him last. Only now, he looked tired, ragged, as if death was lying beside him and he could not get away. We spoke in thoughts, not words. I knew never to show emotion or weakness to those lower than yourself, and I was cautious, thinking that if he spoke too much, he would become weaker. Suddenly, Dysor appeared on the bed beside him. I had not seen Dysor for about twenty years.
"Hello, my child." His thoughts were clear and strong, despite his appearance. "I see that Taryne has found you. Is the child safe?"
"Aye. Frightened, but safe. I did not know that you were in the business of kidnapping small, innocent children, father mine."
"No, child, t'was Taryne's idea. I needed you here, and he said that would be the best way." I was even more baffled. I would let Taryne have a piece of my mind, and a fist if necessary to get my point across, later.
"What has happened?"
"Raydor, Heaygon's brother, has put a spell on me, one that weakens my body. "
"Heaygon, the Nosferato leader?" Gyzanth nodded.
"Eventually, my body will not be able to hold my powers, and I will die." I walked over to him, and placed my hand on his forehead. I could not reverse this magic, but I could stop it from damaging him further. He would be too weak to rule, though.
Gyzanth continued. "I told you that you would be the one to destroy the Nosferato. And it begins here. Raydor has challenged you. Your life for mine and my kingdom. You are the heir."
"No, I am not the heir. That is won by blood, not by kinmanship." The thought of becoming one of them horrified me. To have immortality only because one drank away the lives of others... no. I would let my magic keep me immortal, like it had been doing for the last three hundred thirteen years.
"Will you fight? If you succeed, I survive, and you never have to return to the Dark Realm."
"If I refuse, I never have to return to the Dark Realm. Either way, I gain the same. Why should I help you?"
"For my life." He knew I would fight. Kinmanship was one of the few things that I honored. "For my place as king."
"I do not want your title!" I almost shouted in my mind. "I want no part of it!"
"I knew you would react that way. I chose the one person that was equal to you to take my place."
"Taryne." I shut my eyes, hoping he would tell me no. Still, it was not a question, for I already knew the answer.
"Aye." I felt Taryne's presence, I turned and found him standing at the door, still holding his jaw. For the first time, Gyzanth spoke aloud. "She is like me, you know. To win her love you must face her wrath." I felt precious time slip away from Gyzanth's life as he spoke.
"Damn you," I thought to Gyzanth. "I do not need you encouraging him. You weaken every time you speak. You know I will fight. Then you shall be restored and you will let him be."
"He makes his own choices."
"That is what I am afraid of." I turned and left. Taryne tried to stop me at the doorway, but I shouldered past him and quickly retreated to my new chambers. He would be able to harass me later, since I was going to be staying for a while.
I did not see Taryne at all before the battle. Gyzanth must have told him to keep his distance. I was rather thankful. The day approached. It was unusually warm. Raydor was very tall, about seven and one-half feet. He was also large, part muscle, part excess alcohol. And he was slow, relying on brute strength and hoping to get the job done easily. I could tell he had little endurance, and was hoping to finish me quickly.
I had my Obsidian Sword, a shield, and my claws. I also had a cuff of solid iron, so heavy most men could not lift it. No sword known could even scratch it, partly because of my supernatural meddling. He had a sword, a shield, and three daggers. We were put into a ring where no magic could be used on one another. However, my cuff still held up to his powerful blows.
I saw Taryne's look of longing moments before the battle began. He wanted to be at my side as badly as I wanted him there. It was not going to happen, so the battle began. I relished in the feeling, the power I felt holding my sword. I had not actually been in battle for three years, although I knew I could take this fool man. The bloodlust had returned, and I wanted to gut this bastard, not for revenge for what he did to my father, but because that was what simply what I wanted. To stick my blade deep into his body, and watch the light fade from his eyes.
Raydor wasted much of his energy early, charging at me. I weaved, spun, and whirled out of his path. He did get first blood though, slicing my shoulder. He began to wear down, and I made my move, slicing here, thrusting there, getting nicks and gashes all over his body. I was using my right, weaker hand, so when it tired, he thought he had a chance. He used his sword as an ax and brought it down upon me. I swiftly switched sword hands and let my cuff catch the downfall of his sword. Raydor's shock was enough for me to break his wrist, causing him to drop his sword. He fell, and curled into a cowardly ball.
"Cure him now, and I will let you live." I lied.
"No, instead, I will finish my job." He sent a jolt of power towards Gyzanth, killing him instantly. The Circle was to prevent magic being used on the combatants, not those outside. With his magic spent, Raydor was too weak to stop me for doing anything. I kicked him in the ribs, knocking him out of the restriction of the magic ring, and conjured apparitions to eat his mind, a worse fate then death for one with magical Talents. For thirteen hours it seemed that he screamed non stop, while I implanted the most horrible images imaginable, and some unimaginable, into his head. When I was finally too weak, I ordered the guards to start at his most sensitive areas and begin to dismember him. They did so with obvious pleasure. I left unaided and found the privacy of my chambers. Finally, I bathed and sank into the furs of my chamber and drifted off to sleep.
I was awakened later by some young women, healers, that came to help me dress my wounds. They did not realize I was not mortal. Then Taryne entered...
I awake with a start. I stroke Dysor's sleek fur until I calm. The dream was a memory that I did not want to remember. At least I did not dream about what happened later. That would have been too painful.
His screams... I never knew that screams of horror would give me such pleasure. They did when Raydor was the vocalist. Then the Guards dismembered him, which made me even happier. That pleasure was lessened extremely when I remembered that Gyzanth was dead. My teacher had vanished, and left me with a choice. To take his place meant becoming Vampori. However, Rana was here. With me. And I was lost. I knew that she would be unbiased, and not let her emotions affect her words, her advice to me. So I thought. I went in search of her.
I found her in her chamber, fussing with the nurses that were attending her battle wounds.
"I can heal without your meddling, although I thank you for your concern. I will be all right." They looked at Rana suspiciously, thinking she was mortal, and could not heal as quickly as a Vampori.
"She does not lie, gentle ones. She will heal perfectly. You are dismissed." They bowed and swiftly left. She took off her glasses, rubbing her eyes from what seemed to be lack of sleep. She was looking out the window, gazing into the dark abyss, as if she was lost out there. I gently pulled her away from the window and into my arms, not wanting her to leave me for an alternative reality. I held her close to me, but she was still distant. Rana slowly backed away from me, and sat on the hearth beside the fireplace, losing herself in the rhythmic, hypnotic flames. I was afraid, for I had no idea what had come over her.
"What is it, Taryne?" She asked, her eyes never leaving the dancing blaze. She did not say it unkindly, but mournfully, as if she had lost her best friend. To her, I am sure she already had.
"Should I?" I asked. Intuition told me that she knew what I was talking about. She always seems to read my mind, whether I wanted her to or not.
"The choice is yours. You have already made it, you only want my approval." Her voice rose, and it became forceful. Full of hatred. "You know as well as I do that I would rather rot in Heaygon's dungeon than tell you I agree. So I think I will stick to that for now. You decide." That was hardly what I had expected. No empathy, no support. Perhaps being at Learwind had made me naive to human emotion. To Rana's emotions, which were the hardest to comprehend.
"I have not made up my mind," I refuted, wanting to deny it, but knowing in my heart it was too late. "If I had, why would I be asking for your help now?"
"You made up your mind the moment you agreed to stay with him. Now you will drink his blood, his deadened blood. You will drink the blood of the dead." She said it as if she was just realizing the fact. "You..." she shuddered visibly. "You are no better than the Nosferato."
"No." I violently replied. I turned her from the fire, forcing her to look into my eyes. I gripped Rana's shoulders, almost digging into her, and put my own fore head against hers. "Your fathers blood has power. It lives though he does not. The Nosferato drink the blood of the dead, I drink only the power." She turned from me, her violet eyes brimming with tears. For those few moments, they lost their fire, their passion.
"You have made your choice," Rana declared, and I knew it was true. "Therefore, I shall leave, and never return to this gruesome place where death is drunk like dark, sweet wine. Nothing is left. I will defend the human realm, and you can do whatever you damn well please. We are done with one another. I fought and won, I am bound here no longer." She sheathed her Obsidian Sword and walked towards the door.
"Wait," I responded, stepping in her path. "You have one more task."
"That would be what? I have fulfilled my duties. Now move, before I decide to torture you as well." Her threat was empty, and I heard her fatigue. I knew I had a chance.
"You are the one destined to defeat the Nosferato. I cannot do it alone, and you cannot do it from the human realm. Together, we can defeat them! A king needs allies, and there is no greater ally than you. You have influence in both realms, and could easily take my place, if you desired it. Help me."
"No. I am weary from fighting. Destroy the Nosferato yourself. I protect Alyssira's kingdom. No more, no less." Rana walked past me and into the hallway.
"Rana." I did not say this, but instead thought it. She halted in her tracks. "I beseech you, as the girl I called my best friend and the woman I call my destiny, my love. Keep your promise. Stay, and help me. Then, if I have not changed your mind by the end, leave, and never return, if that is your wish." It was my final resort. She turned, and I saw that the fire had returned.
"Damn you," she said aloud. "You have me cornered, like a caged animal, trapped in this lightless, gothic castle." Her harsh words only made me smile, for I knew she would stay. "Give me one month after you..." She could not even say it. "One month, and then we shall begin."
"Why so long?" I asked.
"Because I will have to adjust. The friend I once loved being changed into the creature I despise will take time to accept. Longer than a month, most probably, but I can try." I smiled, glad she would at least accept it.
"Then I have one more thing to ask." I showed her the secret door that led to my chamber. "I want you to be the first thing I see when I awaken." She did not like the idea, as if it meant admitting her feelings. Rana's excuse was feeble, for I knew that she was more educated than she let on about the Vampori.
"That will be a bit impossible. You wake when the sun sets. You know me better than that. Having the ability to watch the sun set is the only human quality that remains. I cannot give that up. The light would kill you."
"No, it would not. The light is too weak to harm a Royal. Watch it from my chamber, so that I may see you as the light caresses your face, before drifting off to its slumber."
Rana gently pushed me out of her chamber, and began to close the door. When all I could see was her face, she replied.
"Aye, Taryne," Rana shut the door. She had looked defeated, but not broken.
I awaken with a slight smile, and then it turns into a frown. A month has already passed, and I have gotten nowhere. And then my thoughts turn to Rana, and I wonder if she would have smiled after waking up from my dream. I am sure it would have been different. Very different.
Eventually, Taryne returns to his slumber. There are four more hours of sunlight left, and the castle is empty, save the human guards and servants. I go to the kitchen, and am able to find some food. This is the only time any human can eat, while the Vampori rest. It is now that I seriously think about my plan to massacre the Nosferato. They will know if the woman is Vampori, and only I will be able to withstand their hypnotic powers. She must be seemingly docile, but with a hint of passion in her eyes. I, in an unaltered form, would be recognized by him instantly. Therefore, I must undergo my own metamorphosis, like a caterpillar into a butterfly.
That will be the most difficult part, because my options are narrowly limited. With my powers, I am limited to only change my hair, eyes, and height. The Vampori regenerate so quickly because their bodies simply return to the condition they were in when the individual became a Vampori. Although I am not Vampori, I still look the same as I did when I turned twenty, over two hundred fifty years ago. My regeneration powers are as great as the Vampori's are. My magic limits my hair color to red, black, or a mixture, which my hair is now, and always has been. It seems black in torchlight, but the sun makes the red more visible. I experiment for the next four hours, with my hair, eye and skin colors.
Eventually, I decide how I shall appear, and see that the sun is close to setting. I walk into my chamber, and shut the door. Then I quietly creep up the secret, narrow passageway connecting our rooms. Taryne is asleep, lying on his bed, spread across it as if he were afraid someone would steal it while he slept. I smile, knowing he cannot see me. And suddenly I am afraid, for him, and myself. My heart.
If Heaygon was to discover my true identity, I would be killed, after brutal torture, and there would be merciless war. Thousands of people would be slayed, both Human and Vampori, and the Nosferato would be free to roam the Human Realm. Heaygon would kill Taryne, and rule the Vampori. I cannot allow that to happen.
I wish there was less tension between us. That is my fault, I know. But Vampori... why? Why did the man I once loved have to turn into the monster I despise? The monster that one hundred seventeen years ago I would have Hunted, and murdered, simply for the thrill of it? The bloodlust is still here, but now my prey is the Nosferato. It is difficult, though, to forget the prejudice that I have had for years, lifetimes, really. I try not to discriminate, but... I can only try. I am afraid Taryne will betray me. I feel that he already has, by becoming one of them. My rationale is eccentric, I realize, but in the battle of my mind versus my heart, I never let my heart win. Only fools rule with their hearts, and those that do are soon overpowered. For my heart to win, my mind must be calmed, my fears must be extinguished.
The sun has set. He awakens, knowing that I am there. He does not move, nor make a sound. He merely lies there. Finally, I can contain my curiosity no longer.
"What are you doing?" I ask. Taryne is silent for a long time, then he finally answers me.
"Thinking," he replies, "about what I am going to do without you." His words confuse me.
"I am not going anywhere, unless you wish me to leave. Do you realize that you are awake, or are you still dreaming? Come back to me, Taryne."
"Why?" His voice was crisp, and mingled with ridicule. "You do not care, so what is the point? When Heaygon has you for a slave, perhaps you will understand how much I truly love you." Taryne was starting a conversation that I did not want to become involved in. If he was man enough to start it, the least I could do is join in the discussion.
"If Heaygon has me for a slave, then the only thing I'll be thinking of is how to escape. Just think, if he kills me, then you will not have to concern yourself anymore." I feel my composure slipping, my anger rising. I fight to regain control. "You will never conquer my heart, so what is the point of this conversation? You waste our time. I am a Hunter, with no one to Hunt right now, because of this conversation that you stubbornly drag on."
"Is that really what you think? Rana, I do not want to conquer you, or make you my possession. I just want to love you, and you will not let me! Why are you so afraid?"
I cannot not cry, that is weak, I am strong. However, my voice is small compared to the massiveness of the truth Taryne has just thrust upon me. I know I am wrong, yet I am still afraid.
"I am... cautious." He glares at me in obvious disbelief. "Fine Taryne, if it gives you pleasure, then know that I am afraid." Now his expression turns to one of shock. "I am afraid that you will betray me again." I feel his defenses rise, and he begins to argue.
"Hold, for I am not done yet. You did betray me, when you became Vampori. My friend became my foe, and I was alone again. You ask me to love you, but I cannot." I pause, preparing myself for my next words. The first time I have ever admitted my true fear.
"I do not understand all of the Vampori ways, I will admit. And I.. am ignorant, I will admit that, to you only. Perhaps it is foolishness, but..." My voice grows hushed. "I am afraid that you will drink my blood, and leave me to die the way..." I have to stop, before my will dissolves. I calm myself, and continue. "...the same way the guards leave the serving girls that no longer please them. To simply drain them of life. To infect their minds so they have no will and take the lifepower of blood from them.
"Every time you would kiss my lips, my cheek, my neck... I would fear your touch. When we would make love, I would be afraid to lose myself in the passion, because you would drink my blood and leave me to die."
I hate the words even as I say them. My fear is tormenting me, having to admit my seeming paranoia. Taryne simply stares at me, his green eyes full of disbelief, until I can handle it no longer. I now know how it feels to see my own eyes staring at me, except his are hunter green, and full of bewilderment.
"Damn it, so I am afraid of you!" I shout it, the seeming strength in my voice giving me more courage. "Quit staring. So I am not fearless. Even Heaygon is not as unbearable as you are right now." I turn and walk to the window, staring into the night, yet seeing nothing save those eyes, regretting my confession.
Eventually, I feel his presence behind me. He merely stands in back of me, as if he is afraid to touch me.
"Let me be, Taryne. Tonight you plan a war. Think of me no more. Let me help you kill the Nosferato, and then I will leave. You will neither see nor hear from me again." Just move, so that I may leave. Please." It is a plea, but even I can hear the defeat in it. I have told him my most personal secret, and I am unsure of how he will use the knowledge. I am defeated, and I can do nothing about it. Checkmate.
"No. You...fear me? It crushes my heart to know that we have been apart so many centuries because you are afraid of me. Rana, my love, you have nothing to fear." I give a quick grunt of disbelief and close my eyes. Taryne puts his hands on my shoulders and grips them firmly, but without pain. He leans forward until his head touches the back of mine, and his voice is low in my ear.
"You have nothing to fear, never doubt it. I will never harm you, nor drink you blood if you do not will it. That would destroy us both." My eyes flutter open with my astonishment.
"What?" I ask, not comprehending his words.
"Love," he says, leaning my body back until I am against his chest, and wrapping his arms around my body. It reminds me of the Citadel, and remembering the trust I once had for him helps me trust him now. "Your blood is cursed. Gyzanth told me of this. Your mother was a sorceress..." Taryne pauses, uncertain if I know. I nod my head against his warm body, eager for him to continue, suddenly trusting him. "She placed a spell on your blood, that no Vampori or Nosferato could drink your blood without dying immediately. A Vampori could drink enough blood to kill you, but they would die before you did."
He turns me so that I face him, searching beyond the mirrored lenses, looking into my eyes for comprehension. "I cannot harm you and live, and I would never want to do so. I love you Rana, is it so hard to understand? We have no reason to be apart any longer." I feel my tears as they slip down my cheeks. I have been so foolish... I could have been with him so long ago, if I had only known. I feel so stupid, yet so relieved. I shy from him, and walk to the mirror beside his bed. I remove my sunglasses, and watch my tears as they slowly fell, released from their prison of control. Taryne comes up behind me, and I turn to him.
"I am such a fool..." I begin to say, but he silences me by putting a finger to my lips. He wipes my tears away, and gazes into my eyes so seriously that for a moment I think I am looking at my father.
"No, you are not. You did not know. It is past, and now we both know the truth. You know how I feel, and nothing stands in your way. It is your choice now." He turns from me and walks towards the window, his eyes closing as the breeze hit him. I know what he wants, but I do not know if I have the strength...
The breeze is comforting to my senses. Rana is behind me. I cannot tell what she is thinking, I never have been able to. She is afraid of me? I find it almost impossible to comprehend. I love her, and to know that we have been apart for so long because of fear, her fear... It is in the past. I realize that it has been said and done. The only thing left is for her to make a choice.
I feel helpless. Rana knows I love her, and would never harm her. Did I truly betray her by becoming Vampori? It is her choice, I know. If she wants to leave, she can. She will never be my prisoner, for no dungeon could hold her spirit, and nothing I could do would ever extinguish the burning passion in her eyes that I see every time I look into them. My thoughts are interrupted with her words.
"Give me time. A few hours are all I need. You will have your answer." I nod in agreement. I have waited too long to be impatient now. I hear her footsteps as she leaves, pausing at the door. I wish I had Rana's powers, so I could know what she was thinking. Instead, I use my elementary magic to envision her in front of me, a radiant shadow in the dark comfort of the silent abyss of night.
She is a fighter and a lover. Her skills at both, and her beauty, both inward and physically, illuminate the apparition. My vision has the same blaze of hair that Rana does when I awake just in time to watch the sun caress her body before it sinks into the depths. Her skin is tanned brown by wind and sun, but it is an ever-changing color, like the hide of a chestnut mare running across a sun-lit plain. Her lips are dark like the black raspberry, and are just as sweet, if memory serves me. I have been with others, but nevertheless, a mere kiss from Rana thrilled me more than anything else I have ever experienced.
Her amethyst eyes, they have tormented me. Her eyes glow with the passion they have always held. For life, for the Hunt, for me, if I am worthy. Yet they are my tormentors, always looking into my soul, knowing what I really think. Their gaze has put fear into the hearts of men, shame into the hearts of the deceitful. And, when we were younger, they could make me smile no matter how angry or depressed. Rana would taunt me with those eyes, challenge and mock me. She would frighten me sometimes, when she lost herself instead of allowing herself to transform into the Panther. She frightened me then, when her gaze lost its fire, its passion and would be empty, sorrowful and alone.
I do not realize how long I have stood here, reminiscing, until she returns. I turn to face her, to hear her decision. However, she says nothing. Rana takes my hand and guides me out the door, down the stairs, and outside into the starless night. Surprisingly, she still does not have her glasses on. She is silent while she leads me through the forest to a secluded spot, invisible to the palace guards.
"Close your eyes, Taryne," She gently commands. I do so, and feel her other hand grasp mine. Suddenly, I feel as if I am floating, and I am cautious. She feels my tension. "Steady, just a little longer," is her reply. I feel my body settle back down to the solid earth. She lets go of my hands.
"Open your eyes, Taryne." I do so cautiously, and am awed by what I see. We are at the Citadel again. At the same spot I found her at so many years ago.
"How...?" I begin, and quickly stop myself. "Never mind. I do not want to know." Rana smiles at my amazement.
"Probably not," She replies. She walks to the rock ledge I found her on, and she stares into the dark abyss below. She looks at me, beckoning me to join her. I do so, and begin to speak, but she cuts me off.
"No," she says, shaking her head. "Now it is my turn. So many years ago you found me here, alone, cold, and distant. You never asked why, you simply accepted it, and became my comrade. At the end of our time here, I promised never to leave you, a promise I have kept for over two hundred years. Now we are here so that I may make a new oath." Rana pauses, looking into the night. Here there were many stars, but none were so luminous as her eyes, which seemed to glow in the darkness.
"If you were still human, there is no doubt in my mind that we would have been together by now. But you are not, and although my fault, we have been apart longer than we have been together. Therefore, to correct the mistake made, to defy the cruel fate we were given, I challenge destiny. The wronging was mine, and so I pay the price. I banish myself from the Human Realm..."
I stand up, shaking my head vehemently. She is wrong. I have no idea what has come over her. I try to speak, challenging her. Before I can speak my piece, Rana rises and silences me with a look. It immediately softens, and she continues.
"I banish myself forever from the Realm of Light, the human dimension. I declare you my lord, whom forever I shall serve. My punishment is done, now your reward is in order. You have, as my father stated, faced my wrath, and yes, won my love. Speak your decree my lord, and I shall obey."
She has promised never to leave me, to stay here forever. She has given me her love, and named me her master. And still I am not content. So I speak my judgment, with a serious tone and a smile hidden in my eyes. One Rana sees instantly.
"Then you must obey, correct?" She nods in acceptance. "You are a free woman, bound by no laws here other than your own. You may leave whenever you wish, you are not a prisoner here. Now, I ask you one simple thing. Marry me."
"What dowry can I give you? And what can you offer in return?" I see the scheming smile on her face, the seductive raise of her eyebrows. Still her eyes mock me, and I accept their challenge. I come towards Rana, not stopping until we can feel each others breath and can hear one another's heartbeat. For both of us, they become more rapid with every moment we stand there.
"I want only your love. Not just when we are alone, but be willing to show your love at any time or place, no matter who may see. Do not think it weak to show love, because the only ones that think love is weak are those that are alone." She wisely says nothing, because I know that is a law she once lived by.
"Hmm... what can I give in return?" I continue. "I can only promise five things. To love you entirely, to worship your body, respect you mind and will, to have you as my equal, and to be both your student and teacher."
This time I take her sword and bury in the ground, the exact spot it had been thrust once before. Rana holds out her hand familiarly in a warriors truce. Not wanting to break tradition, I grasp it and pull her close to me, our arms wrapping around one another, bringing our bodies as close as our lips are. Finally, reluctantly, she parts from me.
"We must go, Taryne. Our plans must be completed."
"Will you really go?" I ask. "What he could do to you..."
"Will never happen, love. Do not fret, I will be safe, especially with you there to protect me."
"What?" I reply, confused.
"Come on, I will explain in the war room." Rana turns, and walks through the dense, dark brush. I notice that the stars have disappeared.
"How are we...?" I stop, awestruck. We are back at Learwind.
"What?" She asks, a smirk on her face. I kiss her, wiping it away.
"Never mind," I reply. "I just do not want to know."
Learwind is full of Vampori, waiting to know of my plan. It is simple, but needed precise choreography to be carried out efficiently. If one person is not in the right place at the necessary time, we all will be doomed.
When I step into the war room, all is silent. I am given nods and bows of respect from all there. I nod in return, and take my seat on the map table. My glass is handed to me, and Taryne is given his, both brimming with ale. I turn and look at him expectantly, waiting for him to begin. His pleas fell on deaf ears when he asked me never again to wear my glasses. He does not realize I do it for my protection. He shakes his head and begins with serious formality.
"We are gathered here for a common purpose: extermination of the Nosferato. Rana, The Panther, Hunter of these monsters, has formulated a plan for their destruction. Realize that they are not kindred to us, though they are similar. There is not one person here that can say they should not be killed. They are lawless, roamers of the Human Realm, threatening us constantly. If one was captured, the Nosferato could be forced to tell of the Dark Realm. Humans, as a united force, are unpredictable, heartless killers that fear what they do not understand. That fear can make them insane, paranoid, and they will attack us. Ignorant though they are, their sheer numbers will defeat us. We must prevent this from happening."
Taryne pauses, letting the thought of human knowledge, and the possible consequences, enter the minds of the warriors listening. He gives me a glance, an apology, really, if he offended me. I shake my head slightly. Human though I am, I am not as foolish as they are. The more there are in a group, the slower their senses become. Perhaps that is why war is always on their minds.
"Now, the important question; how do we do it? That, I cannot answer. Therefore, I turn this war into the hands of one capable of answering that question: The Panther, Hunter of the Nosferato, Rana, daughter of Gyzanth." Taryne turns to me, and then leaned on the windowsill. Now it is my turn, and I knew he will not like what I have to say.
"This war is a ballet," I begin. " A play, a dance. To be efficient, everyone must act as they are told, be where they are ordered, do what they are commanded. The way to the Nosferato is though their leader, Heaygon. He knows what they know, all of their thoughts are his. By destroying him, they would be required to think for themselves. Their minds are to weak, they could not handle that task, and they would all die. They will try their hardest to make sure no one harms their leader; ANYTHING. No one here, save those of Royal blood, have the power to sense the Nosferato. This makes the task more difficult. There are three things you must remember at all times.
"Speak to no one that you do not know. Now is the best time to get acquainted. No doubt they will try to charm you, and pull information from your words. Speak to no one that is not in this room."
I suddenly think my next restriction, implanting it into the mind of all the men here. "Become used to this," I thought. Fifty men become white with fear, while one leans on the windowsill, silently laughing. "I will give you orders, from both myself and Taryne, in this fashion. Realize that I hear your thoughts, so you will not answer any questions I ask aloud. Simply think of the answer. You must be prepared to hear me. You cannot go paralyzed with fear every time you hear me speak to you. They will notice, and become suspicious."
I begin to speak again, and I feel the relief in the room. "Thirdly, You will not address either me of Taryne anytime after this plan begins. No acknowledgment whatsoever. They will catch on immediately and we will both be destroyed. Are these limitations clear?" Fifty men shout in reply.
"Then listen carefully. You have one week to familiarize yourself in the Nosferato world. Give your power to those second in command. Leave Learwind and take your place as Heaygon's followers. Remember your restrictions. Obey no orders but the ones I give you. Understood?" The unanimous cry could deafen mortals. "Then get to know your allies," I say, gesturing to all in the room. "They are your defense." With these words, I turn and leave. The halls are empty. I go directly to Taryne's chamber, shut the door, and fall onto his bed, feigning tiredness. I wait for him to come, knowing that he will want knowledge of the entire plan. It takes him only five minutes. Taryne walks into his chamber, and upon seeing me, shut the door.
"What is this secretive plan?" He asks, watching me suspiciously.
"You will not like it," I reply. He furrows his brow at me. I laugh, a rare thing, and tell him of my scheme. "We will knock on their castle door." He looks at me if though I was insane.
"What have you been drinking, Rana?" Taryne asks, eyes wide with the shock of the thought. "That's impossible."
"No, not really. You have been the Vampori king for a month, maybe a few days more. And under my supervision the entire time. I know that no Nosferato knows what you look like. You will need no disguise. You will simply dress as one of Heaygon's soldiers. You are familiar enough with their customs; I am sure you will fit in nicely." I rise and walked toward the passageway connecting our rooms.
"Whoa. What will you do?" He asks. I turn, smiling at his words.
"That is all part of the surprise." I walk back toward him, until I am able to feel his heartbeat as it pulsates the air around his body. He pulls my glasses off me, and I watch his eyes. "You cannot know, love," I quietly say to him. "Too much is at stake." My eyes hold a note of solemnity. "I am sorry."
Taryne enfolds me into his arms, and sighs as I lean against his warm body.
"Be careful," he whispers into my ear. "I cannot lose you now, or ever, for that matter." I entwine my arms around his neck, and he carries me to his bed, laying me down gently, watching me, waiting.
"Never shall you lose me, love," I answer. "Go. Your men are unfamiliar with one another. They have to be allies, not enemies."
Taryne smiles, but does not move. We hold each other in the embrace of love for a few moments more, savoring each kiss, relishing in the ecstasy felt with every touch. Finally, he reluctantly rises and walks away, turning at the doorway to gaze upon me once more. "Go," I gently chide, and he leaves, the darkness my companion now.
I reflect on my plan. I will be disguised as a mere mortal human, and I shall offer myself to Heaygon. With his attention turned to me, I can have Taryne's men move and surround the castle. They will then storm in and kill the Nosferato. Heaygon, however, would be mine. Even though Heaygon is a Nosferato, the military training I received at the Citadel prevents me from just killing him. I must fight him, honor demands it. For the first time, I am unsure of myself. If Heaygon wins, the Nosferato will still be destroyed, but so will Taryne.
I refuse to let that happen. I love Taryne too much. It almost frightens me to admit that. Nevertheless, with him I feel safe. It is as if I can stop fighting when he is near, for I know he will protect me if I need protection. This euphoria is new to me, and I revel in the way it makes me feel. Still, Heaygon will be destroyed, even if it means my death.
I rise, replacing my glasses, and return to the war room, greeted warmly by all. I am somewhat relieved that they are getting along so well. Then again, they are Vampori, and have a definite feeling of kinmanship towards one another. I familiarize myself with all the faces in the room; I will need to know them later. After doing so, I try a more difficult task. I implant a memory into the Nosferato consciousness, so that when they meet one of these men they will have a general feeling of recognition. It is rather simple, since I am not embedding an actual memory. Now when a Nosferato sees one of these men, he will not keep his guard up, and he will relax.
Now I am relaxed, and I am exhausted. The sun will rise soon; all but Taryne appear sluggish. Slowly, they dismiss themselves, seeking protection in their chambers. Finally we are alone again. We are both weary, tired from the night's events. We leave the war room, and return to his chamber. We fall onto the bed, and each in others arms, relinquish our worries as we sleep. Just before I sleep, I realize that we have not yet made love. Perhaps the final proof that lust and love is different. To simply be in Taryne's arms is enough for me, I need no more for now than to know he is there. To feel his solid strength against me, nothing is more comforting. Finally, I slip away and peacefully slumber.
I listen to the myriad of conversations around me. I am in Heaygon's palace, and have been for the past two weeks. It has also been that long since I last saw Rana. She has eluded me, perhaps fearing that I would expose both her and my disguise. Then again, Rana may be anywhere around me, transforming herself to appear as a stranger to me.
Unexpectedly, Heaygon enters, with a young woman on his arm. I can tell she was human, because of her rapid heartbeat. Her pale skin, though, makes her seem Vampori. She is short, maybe five and a half foot, with short black hair and eyes seeming as black as obsidian. I consider sending a thought to Rana about this woman, but then realize I cannot tell if someone can hear my thoughts or not. I will have to wait for her to contact me, and tell her then. He seems rather taken by her, and tries to please her every way he can. He has his servants bring her wine, and musicians play and dance for her. She seems timid, yet she knows of the effects she had on him, taunting him with looks and secretive smiles. Rana has her work cut out for her.
Heaygon motions for me to rise and join him. He thinks I am one of his generals, much to my amusement. Nevertheless, I come over to him and salute. She keeps her eyes lowered, meek and respectful.
"Jycon, I have finally found love. Do you remember the battle of Corsan?" I nod, not having the dimmest notion of what he is referring to. "I told you then no woman was worthy of me," he continues. The slightest smile forms on the young woman's mouth. Heaygon does not notice. "And I see now that I was wrong. This woman has brought me so much joy already, and still we have not experienced together the pleasures of the flesh." He raises his eyebrows suggestively, and she flushes with embarrassment. Heaygon turns to her. "Would you allow us to speak in private?" She nods and leaves, never once looking at my eyes. I try to talk Heaygon out of being with this woman.
"My lord, she seems so...weak," I say. "I just do not see how she can handle the pressures and responsibilities..." I am cut off not by him, but by a thought.
"Shut your mouth Taryne! It took me two weeks to get this far. Let them be." Then Rana is gone from my mind, like a forgotten memory you long to have, but cannot hold on to. To cover my pause, I shake my head and shrug. "My lord, what can I say? I wish you both joy." Heaygon claps me roughly on the back.
"That's the way, Jycon." I had to remember that Jycon was me. I grin crookedly. Heaygon continues. "I have a favor to ask, old boy." I nod, waiting for him to continue. "I want you to, how shall I say? Break in my new beauty." Heaygon's words surprise me, and I am cautious to surmise exactly what they suggest.
"You mean.." I begin.
"I mean," he interrupts, "that you are an experienced man with women. I want you to show her the ropes, if you get my drift. I want an experienced lover in my bed, not a frightened virgin. The more relaxed she is, the better she will taste, even though she will not know." He grins sadistically, his voice brimming with the cackle of insanity. I nod and smile, but inwardly I am nauseous. Drinking mortal blood is unethical, immoral, when the mortal is taken forcefully. An unwilling mortal, turned into either Nosferato of Vampori, will try to tell the human world of their existence, threatening all of those that dwelled in the Dark Realm.
I have no idea how to respond. Once again, my mind is invaded, and I am thankful for it.
"Say yes," Rana tells me. "Tell him tonight. Their feast for marriage must be as soon as possible. Urge him to hasten this affair." Again, she leaves just as quickly as she arrived, leaving me to feel empty, alone.
"I do as my lord commands me," I reply to him. "Without sounding eager, my lord, perhaps we should do this.. lesson tonight. You two could then be joined in two days from now."
"You are certainly in a hurry to see me settle down, aren't you lad? Well, I suppose you are right. Bring her to me, and I will tell her of the news."
I turn to go in search of her, but she is already standing before me, like a panther leaping from the shadows.
"Is you secret conversation through, my lord?" She asks, with a playful smile.
"Aye, that it is," he replies. "And I have come to a decision. We will be joined two days from now. What is your opinion of this hasty plan?" She smiles.
"I could not be happier, my lord," She says, but without enthusiasm.
"Excellent," Heaygon responds. "Stay with Jycon until our momentous day. Obey him as you would me, and do whatsoever he asks of you." She looks slightly apprehensive after Heaygon states that.
"Anything, my lord?" She questions. I can her the caution in her voice.
"Aye, my lord," she consents, and walks over beside me. Heaygon and I politely converse for a few moments more, and then he dismisses everyone. The young woman follows me to my chambers. Rana has made them completely protected, so that no conversation or thought can be heard by those listening. I shut the door and barred it, preventing anyone from entering physically. Rana had already taken care of anyone entering mentally. I am worried though, on how to handle my current situation. My fears were soon eased.
She takes my hand and leads me to the bed. I allow her to remove my shirt, wondering how such a timid, inexperienced woman would be able to take so much control. Her hands move across my chest, caressing my body. Then she kisses me, and with that first deep kiss I am completely relieved. I pull away gently.
"You are insane. Beyond insane. How in the hell..." She silences me with another kiss.
"What is wrong, Taryne? You cannot even follow simple instructions from Heaygon. We are definitely doomed." She smiles, and looks at me expectantly.
"Now that is where you are wrong," I say, gently easing her back on to the bed, playfully forcing her submission. "I would, if you were you." She looks at me as if trying to comprehend what I had just said. I clarify. "You now," I say, gesturing with my eyes, looking up and down her body. "Are not Rana. You are his woman. I will not lie with his woman. Only with the real you."
"How moving," she sarcastically replies, but in her eyes I see approval. Rana transforms herself, returning to the six-foot-three beauty I dream about so often. "Are you satisfied?"
"Aye, Rana. Completely. I do not even have to follow through on my orders." I see her relief, knowing how this place disgusted her.
"Good," she responds, shifting towards the edge of the bed. I hold her there with my legs.
"I did not say you could move, though. Remember, you must obey me." Although I mean it playfully, she looks at me seriously, and stills immediately. Rana never breaks her oaths, that point is obvious now. "Tell me of your plan." I ask, but it is more of an order, because of the restriction she has placed upon herself.
"I will get Heaygon to make every Nosferato come to the feast. Every one. They will all stay here during sunlight hours, because of a small spell that with render then unconscious. While you and I are occupied with him, your men will attack, killing every man in battle armor. Any other Nosferato will either have to fight or flee. One way or the other, they will all die. You and I shall take care of Heaygon."
"And what are we going to do?" I ask. She shrugs.
"I do not know. Destroy him, obviously, but as to how...what a brilliant plan, eh?" She grins, laughing to herself. "The fearless leader has no idea what she is going to do. How sad." I lean down toward her, and kiss Rana gently on the forehead, right between those sparkling amethysts she calls eyes.
"You are not fearless," I mock playfully. "It is just that fool curiosity of yours that always makes you seem brave. You are a coward." In a single move she pushes me aside, so that now she is on top of me. She pins my arms behind me, with enough pressure to make me unsure whether she is joking or serious. Her knees are on either side of my waist, and she in a way sits on me, so that I cannot not move, at least without force.
"Coward, am I?" Rana challenges. "I think it is the opposite way. The only creatures that know about cowardliness are men, anyway. Women are not afraid, they are cautious. They are reserved. And they know they can get to any man with a single look. Women have the ability to control men without a single word, if the put the talent into practice oft enough. How else would I have Heaygon following me like a lost puppy?" Her words make me shake with laughter. I have not moved, rather liking the position that I am in.
"A look?" I reply, dubious. "That is not possible." She looks at me as if I am losing my wits.
"Do you doubt the power of women?" She questions, and I know I am in trouble. "We will see about that." And then, in a fluid movement, Rana is standing, looking at me as if my appearance is distasteful.
What?" I ask, wondering why she frowns at me so. She rolls her eyes and looks away, crossing her arms over her chest. I come up beside her but she turns from me. I try again to get in front of her, but she thwarts my every movement. She moves to the window, and runs her fingers though the thick, slightly curled fire that is her hair, letting me watch how the moonlight caresses her. Rana leans her head slowly back, and turns it first to one side and then the other, as her bones realign themselves. Then she sighs, and turns to me shaking her head. I walk over to her, and put my arms around her. She simply stands there, not even acknowledging me. Then she looks directly into my eyes, with a piercing gaze that makes me feel as if I am being accused of murder. I am beaten. I cannot win, and I see her point.
"Enchantress...seductress," I whisper to her. "You have won. Please forgive this foolish man that had the audacity to doubt you." She looks into my eyes and I see that familiar smile that radiates from her eyes to her mouth. I feel her hands move across my chest to my shoulders, and slide down my arms. Then Rana reaches up and whispers in my ear.
"I win," she huskily whispers, and then begins to laugh. I playfully push her away, glaring at her in mock anger. But before I can advance on her, she stills me with a gesture. "Hold, love, we have a siege to plan." Rana spends the next few hours talking, in thoughts and dreams, to my men while I sleep. I only vaguely remember sensing her presence next to mine sometime before midday. And when I awake, she is gone.
I am going to scream if this disgusting, hideous creature touches me. He stalks me with bloodshot eyes and stale breath. Just a few more hours, and then I will slaughter him. Suddenly I laugh to myself. Heaygon reminds me much of Taryne. I send that thought out, and in a few moments am told exactly where on my physical anatomy I can shove that thought. I love Taryne so much. I will never let him know that, though.
Heaygon tries to get me to kiss him. Trying not to retch and forcing a smile, I tell him he must wait a few hours more. Why, he should go out with his men and has another drink. He likes that idea and leaves, stumbling out of the room. I find a small basin and lose everything I have eaten in the last day. As I wipe my face clean, Taryne appears behind me. He has always been able to translocate, he was just cautious to do so. He looks at me, his eyes full of concern. I know how much my disguise bothers him, so I change back into myself.
"Are you all right?" He asks. I glower at him, wondering why he asked me such an ignorant question.
"Of course. I always lose the contents of my stomach about this time of day." He rolls his eyes, but wisely does not question my sarcasm.
"Can you handle this?"
"Aye, Taryne, just keep reminding me... a few more hours." Taryne leaves, and I set down on the floor, giving my final orders to Taryne's men.
"In an hour, every Nosferato will be knocked out save Heaygon." One of my potions, but there is no purpose in telling them that. They will get paranoid and think I am trying to kill them. "That is when you attack." Man by man, I tell them where to be and when to attack. When they all understand their tasks, I hurry up and wait.
The time passes slowly, but I can gradually feel the drug working on them. After it has put them asleep, Heaygon comes stumbling back in, but says nothing to me. It is beyond me how men make absolute fools of themselves when they get drunk. With women it is obvious, they do not drink that often. A more experienced woman, such as myself, can drink and drink and not appear drunk. I speak from experience.
Heaygon trips over a fur on the floor and lands face down. His stupidity does not fool me, he is more powerful than he appears. I surround the room with a field preventing him from knowing what is going on outside. Heaygon suspects something. I give the signal, and Taryne's men move in. Taryne himself appears behind Heaygon, who watches me with accusing eyes, blurry though they are.
"How nice of you, Jycon, to join us." Heaygon looks for me to be surprised by his ability to notice Taryne. I am sure my lack of amazement disappoints him. Taryne, however, almost gawks at him.
"Oh, come now Heaygon, if you can know he is there, you should also know his real name. Introduce yourself to Taryne, leader of the Vampori." Now Heaygon is the one gawking, staring at Taryne as if he was disfigured.
"A woman..." Heaygon mumbles to himself. "Not possible!!!" he shouts. "No woman can outsmart me. My powers can destroy you!" I keep calm, my voice and disposition infuriating him.
"Now Heaygon, you mean there is not any woman that has the ability to be your rival. Perhaps she is aided by something more than physical strength. Maybe...you should ask Alyssira." I transform before him, my sword at my side and my glasses over my violet orbs that now flare with pure hatred. I see the fear in his eyes.
"Panther. Huntress Rana, whatever your damned name may be, if my brother can destroy your father, I can kill you." I draw my sword of darkness, but then lower it.
"What will we fight with? Our arms... or our minds? I can easily defeat you, you drunken bastard. You have a chance if you use your powers. If I have to die to make sure you stay in hell, then so be it. I guarantee that the only blood you will taste from now until your death will be your own. Submit to Taryne's authority, or face my wrath." Taryne does not approve of that, I can see it in his eyes. Only now does he realize that I will sacrifice my life in order to exterminate the Nosferato.
"Rana, I will destroy you, and drink your blood. I will watch the life leave your eyes, and the last thing you will ever hear is my laugh." The thought terrifies me, although I show no signs of my fear. Taryne knows me better than anyone else, however, and he knows how horrified I am at that prospect. My blood gives me power, both physical and mental. Losing it would be the ultimate sacrifice. I see Taryne restrain himself, trying to remember this is my battle, and not his. His eyes flash a fire so similar to my own, and I see the anger contort his handsome face.
"Do you think I am concerned?" I say, feigning my coolness. "Even as you speak, your followers are being killed, their screams filling the night. My blood if anything would be a fair trade, and I will give it up if I can destroy you. My lifepower for yours." Heaygon fears me, and he believes me. I glance at Taryne in a thought, so that he will know I am not serious. His slight smile of relief is reassuring to me. Even though he is here, I know I will be fighting without him. This is my battle, and even though I know he wants to help me, he cannot.
Heaygon watches me warily. Even though he is afraid, his pride will not allow him to surrender. His mind is dissolving, as the other Nosferato die, one by one. As they sever themselves from his consciousness, he loses a piece of his mind. He will try to destroy me, as he desperately fights the unrelentless insanity. He has no chance, and I watch his mind continue to falter. His eyes are unfocused, and he wildly spins around, trying to prevent the madness from overtaking him. I enter his mind, and feel the pain he experiences as each Nosferato is slain. I think I am smiling, but am not sure If I really do so. Heaygon throws me out of his conscious, hurling me back into my body. Taryne is now not quite behind me. He must have moved when I was searching Heaygon's mind.
"If I cannot destroy you," Heaygon looks at me wildly, like a rabid animal. His breaths were labored, and raspy. "Then I will at least destroy him." Heaygon's power surges up, and he forces it towards Taryne. I shout, and block Taryne's body. My own surge rushes forth, and the clash dissolves both of the surges. I invade Heaygon's mind again, determined to make him die, trying to kill the bastard because he tried to harm Taryne. I lose my control as my anger grows. It is working, and he clutches at his head, screaming. Summoning his will one last time before he loses it, he throws me out of his mind. I rush back into my body, and see no more as I meet the floor.
A lone sound penetrates my mind. I single cry is all I hear as my senses leave me. I am dumbfounded, as time slows to the point where seconds feel like lifetimes. I watch Rana fall. I cannot move, but my mind is still functioning. I cannot see her breath, I cannot hear anything save the shout she gave, its single note still wavering. As I return to reality I realize that the shout has died, yet she still lies there. Unmoving,
I do not think, I do not wonder, I simply advance upon the monster that has harmed her, my beautiful Rana. Heaygon shrinks from me, his insanity overtaking his mind to the point he cannot use his magic anymore.
"Taryne, spare me," came his feeble, desperate plea. "Spare me, partake my blood, and you will have no equal." Heaygon watches with eyes paralyzed with fear. Now I am the Hunter, and he will die screaming.
"I will never drink the blood of a monster like you. I will rip you apart, one limb at a time," I say, grasping my blade. "You will die screaming, begging for mercy at my hands." I am beyond reason, my anger beyond containment.
"Taryne," Heaygon pleads, his voice wavering in fear. "She is just a woman. They come, they go. A pact between us will make you the most powerful man alive." His words simply anger me further. I catch him by the throat with one hand, and shove him against the wall. Hearing his ribs crack simply amuses me. I now know of the bloodlust Rana speaks of, as I feel the battle rage she is so familiar with. Although I never consider myself violent as she, I want to see to watch his eyes lose their lifelight.
"You have destroyed my only equal, and now I will destroy you. The last thing you will hear is my laughter. And she will meet you after you die, and torment you for all eternity." I take my knife and get ready to slice his throat. Then I hear Rana stir behind me. Joy envelops me, yet my grip does not loosen. I use the powers she had given me so long ago to watch her, although my back is to her. She rises slowly, using the sill of the window for support. She is barely strong enough to hold herself up. Blood is on her lips, and she holds her arm close to her body, as if it is injured. Her eyes narrow on Heaygon.
"You will rot for eternity...the death I give you will be worse than the death Taryne wants. In the name of those that both blessed and cursed me with these powers, I banish you from the freedom of death. Your diseased mind will roam forever, watching everything but doing nothing. You roam the Human Realm forever, mad as you are, and starving for the blood that makes you the monster you are." Rana's words have power in them that is not her own, and she knows it. Her energy rushes forth, and Heaygon screams. Rana only smiles as his face becomes disfigured and deformed with pain. It was her, yet it was not her that watches as he dies, smiling. Her eyes are glazed, as if possessed. Heaygon becomes limp, and I release him. He hits the floor, and falls forward, his lifepower gone.
Rana's eyes focus, and she gazes at me with that familiar fire. I smile my relief and walk towards her. She shuts her eyes, wincing with pain, and begins to fall. I catch her, and ease her to the floor. Her pulse is faint, her breath shallow. But she is alive. And I swear to keep her that way until we get to Learwind. If she dies I will follow, there is no doubt in my mind. However, I am determined to make sure she does not die here. I pick her up gently, and walk out to the Great Hall. It is empty of life, nothing here save the bodies of the Nosferato. I whisper gently, hoping she can hear me.
"You won the war, Rana. But now you must fight for your life. Just come back to me, and you will not have to fight anymore. Your Obsidian Sword will be useless, because I will protect you. Just do not leave me. Please."
Darkness...blessed darkness. I feel the presence of something more powerful than myself. Thinking it is Heaygon, I whimper and try to find the light. I run, but it is still here. How could he have survived? I shudder. A pair of golden eyes meet mine, illuminating the darkness.
"Dysor?" I exclaim. I breathe in deeply, relieved. There is suddenly more light, as if unseen torch is lit. Dysor transforms before me, from a wolf to a young boy. I stare in wonder, but not fear. "Dysor?" I repeat, almost pleadingly, wanting clarity. The boy motions for me to sit, and I do so. Then he comes over to me, and climbs into my lap. "Who are you?" Is all I can manage, for I am filled with awe.
"I was the keeper of the powers you now possess. I was the giver of those powers to you, and the observer of how you used them. I was your companion when you thought you were alone. I was your comforter when you were frightened, and your protector when you were helpless." The boy looks at me, his golden eyes filled with so much wisdom for one so small, so seemingly young.
"Who are you now?"
"I am but an essence. I am the one who must give you the Choice." Now I am frightened, afraid of the words this boy says.
"What choice?" I ask, cautious. His small hand comes up to my face, and brushed the hair away from my eyes. It makes me remember Taryne's touch, and I am overcome with sorrow.
"He is your choice. If you decide to return to the Dark Realm, you may have to pay."
"With what? I am alone, and have nothing."
"But you do. Your powers. If you return, you may not have your powers when you awaken. I can but guide you back, I cannot assure you that your powers will return with you." My head falls forward, and I begin to cry. My power for Taryne's love. The ultimate choice has been given to me, and I am afraid, terrified of the consequences from either decision. I am who I am because of the talent I possess. Yet I crave Taryne's touch, to feel his embrace and know that I do not have to fight any longer. I close my eyes, and call to him. I am even more terrified when I cannot not hear him. He depends on me, and I on him, I realize that now. But will he love me still once my powers were gone? Who will I be?
"Leave me," I cry. The young boy looks at me with curious eyes. "You are my comforter no longer. Leave, so that I may find peace within myself." And so he does. I sit there, in the darkness, rocking myself back and forth, for what seems like an eternity. Then Dysor returns.
"Have you made your choice?" He asks. I simply stare at him, my gaze broken and defeated. He knows the choice I have made, and nods.
I remember nothing more. Pain shoots through my body, and I wince. My eyes open, and I squint as my eyes adjust to the light. Nothing more than torchlight, but it burns my eyes. I try to move, but am not able to, as if I am wearing lead. Slowly, my body awakens, and I feel the pain from every place in my body, the stinging as it wakes. I grunt slightly, and try to shift my body. A shadow is above me, and it roars. I wince and whisper, barely audible to myself. I tell the shadow to stop, and it does. My mind is sharp, clear, but my body refuses to move as I will it to. My eyes slowly focus on the shadow that roared at me, and see Taryne. I try to smile, but I am unsure of the results. He speaks to me, whispering gently, his voice cracking with emotion.
"Rana...," I hear his relief and weakly nod in reply. I see his face suddenly glow with joy, and his eyes begin to fill with tears. Taryne shuts them, not willing them to fall. I summon the strength to speak.
"What right," I begin. I pause, and getting stronger with each word that follows. "Do you have to cry? I have been through a hell of a lot more than you, and am I getting teary-eyed? No! I refuse to let you cry over this poor, broken woman that can barely move." He grins, shaking his head at me.
"Damn you," Taryne almost shouts in exuberance. "You cannot even get up and all ready you cussing me? And to think I was concerned!" His eyes still hold worry, and I know his words are false bravado.
"This Panther will prowl again, trust me. Did you destroy the Nosferato?" His eyes meet mine in triumph.
"No, love. You did. When Heaygon died, so did his followers. Dropped like flies. Of course, you were to busy taking a nap." I glare at him. Sighing, I drop my head back onto the pillows. "You need to sleep," Taryne says.
"Do not leave me alone." He gently bends over and kissed my forehead, brushing the hair out of my eyes.
"Never, My Rana."
The sun has set. My hand strays to the other side of our bed. It is empty, nothing there save an impression of heat, and of her body. I sit up, looking for Rana. I use my mind to locate her. She is in her chambers, looking out the open window. Her old chambers. I rise, and tread down the stair case to the room. I lean on the doorway, watching her. Rana stares out the window, lost in a world I cannot enter. She is wearing those glasses I despise, the first time since she returned to me. Three months have passed since the Nosferato extermination. A few reformed before Heaygon's death, but the majority were killed when Rana destroyed Heaygon. She has surprisingly retained most of her powers, and only recently did she tell me of her experience with Dysor. I now realize the true extent of her love for me. Dysor has not been seen since, and we probably never will see him again. Although joyful because she still has most of her talents, Rana still seems restless.
"Love," I call to her. I am able to see through those mirrors as her eyes harden, but she continues to look out the window into the dusk. "Come back to reality, back to me."
"I never left it, nor you, my love," was her reply. "I just had to say goodbye." She got up, and shut the curtains. Then Rana took my hands and guided me back to our chamber. I was confused by her words.
"Saying goodbye? To what?" I watch her closely, wondering what she is thinking. I remove her glasses, searching her eyes for help.
"The Hunter died when I returned," she says wistfully. I try to tell her it is not so, but she will have none. She places her finger over my lips, and begins to trace them softly.
"Yes, she did. She died because she had no one to hunt any longer." I know she is right, no more Nosferato existed. "However, the Panther lives on, and she is restless for prey." My eyes widen, not comprehending her words.
"Vampori?" I ask. Rana smiles, shaking her head. She kisses me, silencing me further.
"That's why you are not allowed to speak. You jump to conclusions too quickly." She takes my hands and entwines her fingers with mine. She leans against me, and I feel the heat radiating from her. Then she becomes the predator, pressing me back on to the bed, becoming the master. She is not forceful, she does not have to be. I will gladly become subservient to her touch. I know her too well. "No, not Vampori." She kisses me again, deeper this time. "Human prey." I narrow my eyes at her.
"Human? What are you going to do? Start hunting the Human Realm? You are starting to sound like a Nosferato." That does it. She pins my arms back, until I actually wince. She glares, narrowing those violet tormentors at me.
"Never," she declares forcibly, repulsed at my association between her and the Nosferato. Then her eyes soften. "There are plenty of humans here." She smiles schemingly. My simplicity towards what she is implying makes me stupid, ignorant to her words.
"You cannot kill the humans here. The Vampori need them to survive." Rana stares at me dumbly, not comprehending my stupidity. Then she laughs.
"Do I have to spell it out for you, my simple lover? I do not desire to kill them. Only satisfy the bloodlust within me." I stare at her, wide eyed, finally comprehending her words.
"I want to become what you are, to become Vampori. The bloodlust is here," she says, taking my hand and placing it on her heart. I felt its rapid beat. "I must do what I was bred to do. To be your equal, your true queen, I must become what you are."
I am amazed to say the very least. Rana's mind set has completely changed. Rana wishes to become what she once cursed. I remembered the horror on her face just three months ago, when Heaygon told her that he would drink her blood. I stare incredulously.
"Are you sure?" I ask, knowing that if she is not willing, her blood will destroy me. She knows what I am thinking, and nods.
"Aye love, I am sure. I will never harm you. Are you willing?" I turn over, making her the subordinate, and she smiles with pleasure.
"Of course. I would not have it any other way."
I kiss her deeply, tasting the sweetness of her mouth. Rana cries out in wanting when my mouth leaves hers and travels down to her throat. I have no intention of changing her yet, it is a test to make sure she will not regret her choice. She stays completely relaxed, her body arching toward mine with every kiss. I use my hands to keep her body down on the bed. Shaking my head, and grinning like a fool, I return to her mouth, where I am warmly greeted.
"Hold tight love," I whisper huskily into her ear. "The pain will not last long, I promise." Rana entwines her arms around my neck trustingly, and presses her body close to mine. I settle her down again, and slowly return to her throat, where her pulse flutters rapidly. I kiss it, relishing in the life that flows through it. And then I strike, wracked with sorrow as I take the life from her. She cries out in pain, almost breaking my heart. She has so much power, so much life, that I think I will never be done. I feel as if I am killing her. I suppose I am. Will she be the same Rana?
I drink her life away, and then she is still. Each breath is forced, her pulse is barely audible. Her power surges through me, until I can barely contain it.
I take Rana's dagger and slice my wrist, making an x on the pale skin. I feel no pain, her blood has made me oblivious to the slight pain I would normally feel. I put my wrist to her lips and watch in fascination as my blood, both my life and hers, slowly drips into her mouth. Once her tongue finds it, she draws her head to my wrist, relishing in the taste. She continues until I feel my own blood being taken, and I pull her away gently. Within seconds the wound disappears. She has her eyes closed, the pain evident on her face as her transformation takes place. I hold her in my arms, waiting for the tremors to stop, for the pain to go away. Finally she stops shaking, and opens her eyes. They have grown twice as luminous as before.
I kiss her, tasting the blood still in her mouth. Rana smiles at me, her eyes sparkling. They have changed, somehow, taking on a wild look about them, which is familiar to my own. She turns her neck side to side and stands up.
She completely awes me with her next actions. She takes her glasses, and cleans them on her shirt, my shirt, actually. She throws her mirrored sunglasses into the fire, and smiles at the shock in my eyes.
She takes her Obsidian Sword, and holds it before her, the blade pointing towards the ceiling. She presses her forehead against it, and kisses the dark blade. Opening the curtains at the window, she drops the sword down into the dark night. It shatters on the rocks below. She watches it with wonder.
"No longer do I fight with my Sword of Obsidian, Taryne. The need has left me." I ponder how it has survived so long, in so many battles with her, never yielding to her opponents. Now to be so fragile, to shatter so easily amazes me, and Rana as well, I think. She turns her gaze upward, to watch the night. I rise behind her. She takes my arms and wraps them around her body, and I pull her close. I kiss her neck, and find the place even more sensitive to her than before.
"What do you see, my Rana?" She looks at me, and then into the night.
"I see opportunity," she replies.